ACT Government submission (File size: 132Kb) (File size: 131.5 KB)
ACT GOVERNMENT SUBMISSION
DCITA DISCUSSION PAPER ON MEDIA REFORM OPTIONS
“MEETING THE DIGITAL CHALLENGE – REFORMING
AUSTRALIA’S MEDIA IN THE DIGITAL AGE”
Summary of Proposals
This submission has been developed to provide a response by the ACT Government
to the Commonwealth discussion paper “Meeting the Digital Challenge – Reforming
Australia’s media in the digital age”, released on 14 March 2006.
This submission incorporates a number of proposals developed by the ACT
Government for consideration in the context of the development of Australia’s digital
media environment. Key proposals include:
• A common and unified switchover to digital television service in the Southern
NSW TV licence area; this includes the ACT and Australian Capital Region
• All State/Territory governments to be involved in the development of the
Digital Action Plan for switchover to digital TV service
• Commonwealth government assistance to disadvantaged and low income
households to enable their switchover to digital TV services (as proposed in
the discussion paper)
• Strengthened requirement for all retailers to have set top boxes available for
purchase and to inform consumers about digital television policy at point of
sale from 1 January 2007
• Capacity to be allocated on digital broadcasting spectrum for government data
• Capacity to be allocated on digital broadcasting spectrum for community
• Regulatory framework for new digital services on other platforms to take into
account both the type of content provided and the platforms used to deliver
• Removal of prohibition on multi channelling for commercial free to air
broadcasters at the end of the simulcast period (as proposed in the discussion
paper). Removal to be tied to the broadcasters providing capacity for
government data casting, community broadcasting services and strengthening
local content quotas for regional licencees for broadcast of local news and
• Removal of prohibition on multi channelling for the national broadcasters
(ABC, SBS) (as proposed in the discussion paper). Removal to be from 1
• Removal of the existing HD quota obligation for commercial broadcasters
simultaneously with the removal of prohibition on multi channelling (as
proposed in the discussion paper). The removal of HD quotas is to be subject
to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) being
required to review and report to the Commonwealth on the level of HD
programs provided following the commencement of multi channelling by
commercial free to air broadcasters. The ACMA review is to be undertaken
two years after multi channelling first commences for these broadcasters.
• Removal of existing requirement for regional licencees to provide multiple
HDTV streams (as proposed in the discussion paper). This removal is to be,
subject to existing and proposed strengthened local content quotas being
achieved through SDTV services, multi channelling and unallocated channels
in the Broadcasting Services Band
• Commonwealth to strengthen the local content quota requirements for
commercial free to air regional licencees, following the removal of existing
prohibitions on multi channelling and use of unallocated channels in the
Broadcasting Services Band.
Part 1 – A Roadmap to Digital Conversion
Timetable and plan for switchover
The discussion paper seeks comment on how switchover should be implemented
including the options of a nationwide switchover, by region or another configuration.
Canberra and the rest of the ACT is included in the Southern NSW licence TV area
which includes the local councils of the Australian Capital Region, Illawarra, Wagga
and Bathurst/Orange/Dubbo areas (see Appendix A – map).
The ACT considers that the southern NSW licence TV area should have a common
and unified switchover to digital television service.
The ACT Government believes that Canberra as the national capital city needs to
maintain parity with the other capital cities in terms of the standards and range of
television services being provided. There is also a need to ensure that there is a
common and unified switchover to digital television service for the ACT and
Southern NSW television licence area. The Commonwealth therefore needs to ensure
that all parts of the licence area have access to digital service, to enable a common
switchover of the other capital cities and the Southern NSW television licence area.
The discussion paper seeks comment on whether there is scope to shorten the
simulcast of analogue and digital signals for regional broadcasters or allow regional
licencees to voluntarily cease analogue broadcasting earlier than any mandated
Canberra and the Southern NSW licence area is served by the regional commercial
FTA licencees: Southern Cross Ten, WIN and Prime; the ABC and SBS. Any
shortening of the simulcast period or voluntary ceasing of analogue broadcasting by
regional licencee should be dependent on ensuring that all areas currently receiving
analogue services have access to digital service; and adequate consultation by the
regional licencees with those communities which would be affected by an earlier or
voluntary cessation of the analogue service.
Any early changeover should also be part of a wider program to ensure low income
and disadvantaged members of the community are not financially affected, and to
require all retailers in Australia to bundle a set top box with any analogue TV sold
well before any change over. The ACT Government supports a subsidy paid by the
Commonwealth for low income people to enable them to purchase a set top box if
Development of Digital Action Plan
All State/Territory governments should be involved in the development of the Digital
Action Plan. The ACT Government proposes to consult further with our stakeholders
to consider the impacts of the digital switchover and will consider making a further
submission to the Commonwealth on this issue.
Technical, regulatory and other measures to encourage consumer take up and the
vacation of analogue spectrum
The discussion paper outlines a number of consumer awareness, financial and other
assistance for digital divide target groups, regulatory and industry measures, to
increase consumer take up of digital TV.
Assistance to disadvantaged and low income households
The ACT supports the proposed measures in particular the consideration of financial
assistance for disadvantaged people, or the elderly, or possible subsidisation of digital
receivers to facilitate conversion for these groups.
The ACT submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Communications, Information Technology and the Arts' inquiry into the
implementation of digital television (Digital TV inquiry), in May 2005, proposed that
the Commonwealth subsidise the purchase of set-top boxes for low-income
households to ensure that they receive some kind of television service after the
switch-off of analogue transmission
The ACT considers it will be absolutely critical to provide support and assistance to
all of those disadvantaged people in the community who have the potential to be
excluded from access to a basic television service, following the close down of the
The possible social consequences of the switch over for this group may be significant
if the Commonwealth does not provide the necessary assistance (both financial and
support/advice) to enable disadvantaged households to obtain digital television
services concurrent with the analogue switch over.
It is important that the Commonwealth provide the necessary assistance to ensure that
the switchover to digital does not result in the creation of a new under-class of citizens
in the area of communications technology
In respect of regulatory requirements, given the large number of analogue television
receivers (especially cheap CRT’s) continuing to be sold there is a pressing need to
strengthen existing arrangements for retailers. It is proposed that all retailers selling
analogue televisions be required to have set top boxes available for purchase at the
point of sale and be required to inform consumers that analogue transmission will not
be available from the planned switchover date and advise that a set top box would
need to be purchased to receive broadcast services after that date. This requirement
should apply from 1 January 2007. This provision will be beneficial in increasing the
number of households accessing digital TV from that date and reduce the ultimate
requirement for government provision of set top boxes before analogue services close
Part 2 – Enabling a Digital Environment
2.1 New Services on Spare Spectrum and other Platforms
New digital services on broadcasting spectrum
The discussion paper seeks comment on options for use of spare broadcasting
spectrum (ie the two unallocated digital channels in the Broadcast service band [BSB]
available in most licence areas until analogue television ceases).
Datacasting of government services
The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported the development of specific
initiatives to enable governments to provide information and services to customers
through data casting platforms.
The ACT Government supports the opportunity for governments to provide data
casting services through the spare spectrum. The proposed uses of spare spectrum
should not be broadened to other services unless provision is included for government
data casting services in this spectrum. The NSW Government’s trial of channel 44
data casting services has demonstrated significant potential which governments are
keen to further examine.
At the Online and Communications Council Regional Communications working
group meeting on 23 February 2006, the Commonwealth and all State/Territory
governments agreed that the implementation of digital television, including the
potential for data casting services, was a key issue for governments to consider in the
context of regional communications requirements. A proposed outline for a policy
framework is being developed by members for consideration by the working group in
This development should specifically be taken into account in the Commonwealth’s
decisions on the discussion paper.
The ACT Government proposes the following policy principles for spectrum usage:
- the two unallocated digital channels to be allocated by auction by the
Commonwealth to interested parties;
- the multi channelling permitted to free to air commercial broadcasters be
required to include spectrum/channels for government data casting services
and community broadcasting purposes.
This proposed approach would have a number of benefits including:
- maximising efficient use of available broadcast spectrum
- allowing the Commonwealth to maximise revenue from the auction of the two
additional unallocated digital channels and
- enabling government data casting and community broadcasting services to be
broadcast from existing broadcast facilities without incurring costs of new
facilities for establishing these new digital services.
Further detail on this proposal is outlined under 2.2 Expanded Service Options for
Existing FTA broadcasters.
New digital services on other platforms
The discussion paper suggests that new commercial FTA broadcast services delivered
over platforms other than normal BSB channels (such as wireless, satellite and
broadband networks), will have the opportunity to emerge from 1 January 2007.
The ACT considers that the regulatory framework for new digital services on other
platforms should take into account both the type of content provided and the platform
used to deliver that content. The framework should also address emerging
requirements in both mobile communications and home communications systems
In respect of the mobile communications environment, 3G mobile phone platforms
services now provide access to internet (broadband) type content and streamed short
video. The proposals under consideration would enable subscription TV, niche FTA
TV shows (narrow casting) and interactive services to be sent to fixed or mobile
devices including through digital video broadcasting – handheld devices (ie 3G/4G
mobile phones, Ipods with video capability etc).
In respect of the home communications environment, consumers ability to integrate
the transmission of video, sound and data between all of their major home
communications and entertainment devices ie digital television, digital video
recorders/personal video recorders and computers (internet), media centres and games
platforms will dramatically contribute to the establishment of the digital home.
Content will also be able to be downloaded to portable devices.
In this context, it is important to note that internet TV already exists in Australian
homes, for example, through ability to download episodes of US TV programs and
movies from the web. New technologies being launched this year including ViiV and
Reeltime Media’s set top box will also make it easier for video to be broadcast on
digital TVs. The future maturation of IPTV poses further challenges.
The recent agreement by the world’s largest electronic firms to use Bluetooth wireless
technology to seamlessly connect all major home communications and entertainment
devices and related devices (such as portable devices and multimedia projectors) in
the home must be considered a very significant step forward for the future digital
environment. (Canberra Times, March 30, 2006).
The Commonwealth’s digital broadcast policy framework needs to take into account
any relevant issues arising from the mobile and home communications environments
outlined above, to ensure that there is a level playing field for content providers,
platform providers and consumers.
2.2 Expanding Service Options for existing FTA broadcasters
The discussion paper proposes that commercial FTA broadcasters be allowed to
provide full multi channelling from the end of the simulcast period.
The ACT’s submission to the digital TV inquiry supported more consumer choice
through the development of innovative content (through multi channelling and
increased program choice from multi-channels on SD, extra viewer options [digital
enhancements] on SD and expanded HD broadcasting).
The ACT submission also indicated that the ACT would benefit from the removal of
existing genre restrictions on broadcasters to enable improved local content and
The ACT supports the proposed removal of the existing prohibition on multi
channelling by commercial FTA broadcasters as a major activity to support the
implementation of digital TV. The existing prohibition should be maintained for
these broadcasters until the end of the simulcast period.
The ACT proposes that the removal of this prohibition should be specifically tied to
commercial broadcasters being required to provide capacity in their multi channelling
spectrum streams for government data casting services (for example hosting of
Channel 44, NSW), community broadcasting and strengthening requirement quotas
for the showing of local content (news and community information) on regional TV
services. Community broadcasting should be included in, and be counted as part of,
the increased quotas for local content.
A wholesale type arrangement is envisaged under this proposal. Community
broadcasters would be responsible for all program content and transmission costs and
the community broadcaster would have use of the commercial free to air broadcaster’s
Initially, the community broadcast channels could be used for government data
casting services. As multi channelling arrangements mature, a separate government
data cast channel could be developed, leaving spectrum available solely for
community broadcasting purposes.
Local content quotas for each regional licences should be strengthened to one half
hour local news broadcast as one complete program per licencee from Monday –
Friday; the content would comprise local news, sport and weather. Community
broadcasting quotas would be counted as additional to this requirement.
The discussion paper indicates that the Commonwealth’s preferred option is to
remove the current genre restrictions on the national broadcasters (ABC and SBS) and
allow full multi channelling by the national broadcasters as soon as practicable upon
passage of the necessary legislation.
The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported removing existing
restrictions on multi channelling for all free to air channels, in particular the ABC.
The ACT considers that the national broadcasters (in particular the ABC) have both a
important role to play in the community as a whole and a major role in the
development of digital TV services in Australia.
The ACT supports the proposed removal of the current genre restrictions on national
broadcasters to allow full multi channelling as soon as practicable to enable national
news broadcasts, drama, movies and relevant sports broadcasts, interactive
broadcasting services and enhanced access to archival material to be provided on the
national broadcasters digital channels.
In terms of timing, the ACT supports the Digital TV inquiry report recommendation
for the current genre restrictions on the national broadcasters to be removed from
1 January 2007.
The ACT observes that it will be necessary for the Commonwealth government to
provide the national broadcasters, in particular the ABC, with appropriate funding to
ensure that the broadcasters can improve their digital services to the community in
each of the areas identified above. The ACT Legislative Assembly passed a
resolution on 8 March 2006 indicating its support of the ABC triennial funding
HD TV quota
The discussion paper proposes that the existing high definition (HD) quota obligation
(1040 hours per annum or around 20 hours/week per channel) be removed at the same
time as full multi channelling by commercial broadcasters is permitted. This would
apply at the end of the simulcast period.
The ACT submission to the Digital TV inquiry supported an increase in the existing
HD program quota, to further differentiate HD services from SD services and provide
increased consumer choice.
The ACT notes the evolving environment in respect of HD including the increasing
production of HD programs by US/UK and Australian studios, the increased number
and types of HD receivers (including integrated HD tuners) and other components
being sold in Australia, the decreasing retail price of these products and the
consequential increase in numbers of HD equipment being sold.
The ACT supports the removal of the HD quota at the same time as multi channelling
by the commercial broadcasters is permitted but subject to the Australian
Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) being required to review and report
(on the amount of HD provided by these broadcasters after multi channelling
commences) and make recommendations to the Commonwealth as to how HD
broadcasts should be maintained in the digital TV era. The ACMA report should be
undertaken two years after the date on which multi channelling is initially permitted to
the commercial broadcasters. The ACMA review would provide a safeguard for those
consumers who have purchased HD equipment and may be unable to access a
reasonable level of HD programs following the removal of the HD quotas.
Simulcast of SDTV and HDTV
The discussion paper also proposes that the Commonwealth could remove the existing
requirement for broadcasters to provide a simulcast of their SDTV service in HDTV
format from January 2007. The ACT supports this generic proposal to provide
additional flexibility for broadcasters in HD programming.
The discussion paper indicates that this approach is seen as particularly benefiting
licencees in key regional markets who are currently required to simulcast these
different sub regional services to meet local content programming requirements. This
currently involves providing multiple HDTV streams to meet local content
requirements for the particular licence area. Under the Commonwealth’s proposal,
regional licencees could show one rather than multiple HDTV program streams across
their entire licence area.
The ACT supports this proposed approach in principle for regional licencees subject
to existing and future local content provisions (including increased quotas) being
achieved by regional licencees through SDTV services, through multi channelling
arrangements or via the unallocated digital channels in the Broadcast Service Band.
2.3 Media Ownership and Control
Regional services protections
The discussion paper indicates that the Commonwealth Government acknowledges
the importance to regional Australians of “live and local” media.
The paper states that licence conditions are currently imposed on television
broadcasters in aggregated regional commercial television markets including Southern
NSW TV licence area (which includes Canberra, the ACT and Australian Capital
Region) which require minimum levels of content to be broadcast on matters of local
The licence conditions are imposed on commercial free to air channels. The national
broadcasters - ABC and SBS - are not subject to these conditions.
The ACT supports the Commonwealth proposal to legislate to require the retention of
these licence conditions in the digital TV era.
The ACT also considers that the Commonwealth, as a core requirement, should take
the opportunity provided through expanding the service options for existing FTA
commercial broadcasters (through removing the existing prohibitions on multi
channelling and use of the unallocated channels in the Broadcasting Services Band),
to increase the existing local content quota requirements for coverage of local issues.
The ACT considers that once regional broadcast licencees are permitted to broadcast
on additional digital channels, this will provide more scope and flexibility for
enhanced local and regional content. Quotas should be increased for the commercial
free to air broadcasters from the date when the multi channelling prohibition ceases.
Further details on the proposal for strengthened local content are provided at 2.2
above (Expanding Service Options for Existing FTA broadcasters, Multi channelling,