TV digitisation and restackBefore I update you on these two major pieces of ACMA work, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the transformation in television viewing they are contributing to.Ever since its inception in 1956, television has been characterised by different numbers of channels between geographical areas, with broadcasters in metropolitan areas periodically raising the bar and regional and remote viewers in the position of trying to catch up. The consequences can be seen in this admittedly oversimplified snapshot of service numbers by geographical area in 2008 – over-simplified, because many of the terrestrial TV viewers in that enormous yellow area had access only to three or four analog television channels. By the end of 2012 or thereabouts it will look like this [next slide]
Once digitisation is complete, every single household in Australia should have the opportunity to receive the same bouquet of advanced free-to-air television services. All that should differ is the local content – and the means of delivery. Two recent government initiatives have contributed to this outcome. First, the VAST satellite service now offers viewers in areas without adequate terrestrial coverage the full ensemble of standard definition and HD television channels. Meanwhile, commercial television broadcasters in most ‘underserved’ markets have secured government funding under the Additional Services Assistance Program (ASAP) to provide the full suite of digital commercial television broadcasting services available to metropolitan viewers. The ACMA is not the only player in the digitisation space – the organisation the general public should be most conscious of is the Digital Switchover Team, part of the DBCDE, and its excellent MySwitch website. But look behind MySwitch and you’ll find a series of critical ongoing ACMA roles –Firstly, over a number of years the ACMA has been developing digital channel plans, the necessary regulatory framework and issuing licenses for around 1700 digital television services operating at over 400 transmission sites. Ultimately over 2500 digital services at 600 plus sites are expected by the completion of digitisation. While the ACMA’s key role in digitisation planning work is largely unknown outside of the broadcasting community, the ACMA’s coverage evaluation program or CEP, that compares digital to analog TV coverage, is contributing in a very direct way to the highly successful DST run community assistance programs website. The in excess of 130,000 CEP field measurements of analog and digital TV coverage taken at 18,00 locations across every state an territory is an unprecedented exercise in determining the ‘ground truth’ of digital TV rollout in contrast to the more normal dependence on purely computer modelling. The CEP represent world’s best practice and plays a major, though largely unseen, part in the success of the governments switchover programs and in particular the MySwitch website which is often the first port of call for the public in switchover matters. The ACMA also plays a key role in the digital TV safety net that is the Viewer Access Satellite Television or VAST system that ensure that every Australian regardless of location is able to access all the benefits of digital television. The ACMA registers the Conditional Access Scheme that is used to determine the validity of request to access the satellite service and also assess complaints from the community if there are concerns over access. ]Once terrestrial TV services are re-stacked into a block configuration, the revolution should be complete. When we’re talking about re-stack, it’s usual to emphasise its relationship to the digital dividend – that is, you need a restack to yield that large contiguous block of spectrum in 700MHz. What is sometimes less appreciated is that re-stack should also leave television planning in better shape, with significant long-term benefits for television viewers. This is because of the ACMA’s decision last year to adopt a ‘block’ planning approach to the post-restack configuration of TV channels. That is, instead of the traditional approach, which would have seen restack accomplished with the minimum possible moves.While strongly supported by the commercial broadcasters, the benefits of block planning, and importantly the costs, required extensive analysis by the ACMA to confirm. In coming to its decision in support of block planning, the ACMA found little difference between planning approaches in terms of costs and disruption but identified that block planning has modest but real long-term benefits. These benefits include the most equitable arrangement possible in terms of service coverage – meaning for the viewer that if they receive one service they almost certainly will receive them all. In addition viewer antenna arrangements will be simplified – in the future no-one will need both a VHF and UHF antenna – one or the other will suffice. So when we complete these two processes Australia-wide – TV digitisation and the restack - practically all viewers should be able to receive the full ensemble of television services licensed in their area using a single external aerial or a satellite dish. And, for the time being at least, would-be TV viewers will have that most excellent ‘front door’ to television reception, the mySwitch website.Instead of historical approaches that viewed each service as a separate entity, the new reception arrangements are increasingly treating free-to-air television as a single platform, available to everyone through a single device. Viewed from the past, this looks like perfection. The interesting question is what it might make possible in the future.
The trouble with achieving perfection is that television won’t stand still. There’s always something better.Before the 2001 commencement of DTTB in Australia, the government and broadcasters assessed the competing technical standards of the day and chose DVB-T from the DVB family of open standards. Adoption of DVB has served Australia well. From its European origins, DVB has been extensively adopted worldwide, benefitting Australians through economies of scale in the manufacture of both receivers and head-end equipment. Combined with the allocation of a full, 7 MHz channel to each broadcaster in each area, the choice of DVB-T and MPEG-2 has delivered a terrestrial free-to-air network that is already able to deliver the high definition (HD) services that some overseas television audiences are only now experiencing through the introduction of later versions of these technologies.
In January this year the ACMA released a discussion-paper aimed at ‘starting the conversation’ about future technical evolution of free-to-air TV. In the decade since 2001, a more spectrally efficient successor to DVB-T has emerged, also an improved version of the MPEG-2 encoding standard. These successor standards—DVB-T2 and MPEG-4—offer large improvements in the spectral efficiency of DTTB.Use of MPEG-4 alone could, we estimate, halve the bandwidth required for a standard definition TV service from 4–6 Mbit/s to 2–3 Mbit/s , potentially doubling the capacity of broadcaster multiplexes. Use of DVB-T2 as well would offer further transmission efficiencies of 30–50 per cent. Other digital early-movers, in Europe and elsewhere, are moving to augment their legacy DVB-T/MPEG-2 platforms with these improved standards. However, a common reason for doing so has been to enable broadcasters to carry additional content, notably HDTV, that Australian broadcasters have carried from the outset, because each broadcaster has an entire multiplex to itself.As you’d expect from a conversation-starter, an important theme of the ACMA’s discussion-paper was checking our facts. We also asked a few basic questions:Should the ACMA do anything to meet the challenge of ever-improving technical standards? What issues does technological evolution raise and is there pressure for change in Australia? What are the potential options for promoting standards migration and how might they be implemented? We don’t anticipate much change, and certainly no one is looking for disruption, in the short-term. The purpose of commencing early consultation on standards evolution was to identify what, if any, short- to medium-term interventions may yield benefits for viewers and industry in the long term.The period for submissions closed in March, but stay tuned, we should be publishing them all shortly. Just when you thought television couldn’t get any better…
ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman's CommsDay presentation slides to accompany speech, 18 April 2012
CommsDay SummitChris ChapmanChairmanAustralian Communications and Media AuthoritySydney, Wednesday 18 April 2012
A converged regulatorThe ACMA regulates media and communications in Australia inaccordance with four core principal Acts:> Broadcasting Services Act 1992> Telecommunications Act 1997> Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999> Radiocommunications Act 1992.
… the tip of an iceberg > 54 broadcast investigations > 32 Mobile Premium Services Code breaches > 1,210 Do Not Call Register complaints > 3,496 online content complaints > 17,366 spam complaints, reports and enquiries in January 2012 > 64,500 cybersafety education resources sent in January 2012 > 411,000 attendees at Internet Safety Awareness Presentations since 2009 > 1,489,000 Cybersmart website visits to date