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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
CHAIR (Mr Champion)
Turnbull, Malcolm, MP
Neville, Paul, MP
Husic, Ed, MP
Jones, Stephen, MP
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Content WindowStanding Committee on Infrastructure and Communications - 14/03/2013
MAJOR, Mr Allan, Acting General Manager, Communications Infrastructure Division, Australian Communications and Media Authority
MAURER, Mr Andrew Peter, Assistant Secretary, Spectrum Treaties and Internet Governance, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
O'LOUGHLIN, Ms Nerida, Deputy Secretary, Broadcasting and Digital Switchover, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
PELLING, Dr Simon, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
TANNER, Mr Giles, General Manager, Digital Transition Division, Australian Communications and Media Authority
Committee met at 11:13
CHAIR ( Mr Champion ): I declare open this public hearing of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications and welcome all of the attendees here today, as well as those listening to our webcast.
The committee is conducting a short inquiry into the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend) Bill 2013. The inquiry was referred by Minister Albanese and also by the House Selection Committee this week. The committee is moving quickly in order to complete and present the report to the House by Monday 18 March, as requested by the minister.
Because of this time frame, the committee recognises there have been limited opportunities for public involvement. This morning, the committee received a submission from the Australian Wireless Audio Group, AWAG, which, according to a representative, is an industry funded, non-partisan representative group which speaks for key manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and users of wireless audio products currently operating in the 520-820 megahertz frequency band. AWAG is managed by the Australian Commercial Entertainment Technologies Association with support from the Australian Music Association.
Is it the wish of the committee that the submission by AWAG be accepted as evidence? There being no objection, it is so ordered. The submission from AWAG is now a public document and will be available from the committee's website at the earliest opportunity. Other information relating to the inquiry is also available from the committee's website. We thank the witnesses for their ability to attend on short notice. We also welcome representatives from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and ACMA. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and warrant the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament.
Obviously we are operating on pretty tight time frames here, so it is important to avoid, if we can, taking questions on notice. I just remind you of that. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement, if you wish.
Ms O'Loughlin : Thank you, Chair. I will make an opening statement. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Digital Dividend Bill 2013 proposes minor amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992. To assist the committee, I would like to provide some context to the bill. The changes included in the bill were prompted by concerns raised with us by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the ACMA, in the context of the impending auction of the so-called digital dividend. The digital dividend is a spectrum that will be freed up by the completion of the digital television conversion process and the clearance of the relevant frequencies through a subsequent reorganisation of broadcasting services known as the restack. The spectrum is to be made available for new innovative services such as long-term evolution mobile broadband rather than traditional television services. The ACMA is the auction manager for the digital dividend spectrum, and the auction is planned for April 2013. Successful bidders from the auction process will be issued with spectrum licences that will commence on 1 January 2015.
The bill reflects concerns raised by the ACMA that the current datacasting regime which applies to broadcasting services band spectrum could apply to the new services provided by successful auction bidders if any of those latter services commenced earlier than 2015. This is because the spectrum that those services use will still be in what is called the broadcasting services bands. Ultimately, the minister will remove the digital dividend spectrum from the broadcasting services bands following the clearance of all broadcasting services. However, there may be a short gap between a service commencing and the minister making the necessary instrument, during which, potentially, some services might be subject to the datacasting rules.
The datacasting provisions restrict the types of content that can be provided by such a service to only educational programs, information-only programs, interactive computer games, text or still visual images, parliamentary broadcasts or ordinary electronic mail and internet content. It is not intended that the datacasting rules would apply to new mobile broadband services. It would be an anomaly to have them apply for what could only be a few months prior to the undesignation of the spectrum from the broadcasting services bands by virtue of a clearly unintended side effect of the existing legislation. Therefore, to give clarity to the bidders in the auction process, the bill makes clear that these datacasting rules will not apply to their services if those services commence early. This is the whole purpose of the bill. It is drafted to limit the scope of the datacasting rules to national and commercial broadcasters and provides a safety net so the rules cannot be circumvented where they should apply.
There has been some speculation that the bill will enable wholesale early access to digital dividend spectrum by auction bidders in advance of broadcasters exiting the spectrum. This is not the case. The availability of spectrum for new services will very much depend on the completion of the restack process that we have already commenced.
This process involves nearly 1,500 digital television services and other services being progressively relocated to ensure that digital dividend spectrum is completely clear before new services commence on 1 January 2015. The current time frame for completion of the restack is the end of 2014; however, the current legislation does allow for ACMA to license new services to commence earlier than that if spectrum becomes available and it is safe to do so without any interference to the existing broadcasters' services. The bill's provisions recognise this and provide certainty as to the rules that would apply to services if this were the case. We are happy to take questions from the committee.
Mr TURNBULL: The issue I am particularly concerned that you might address—and this is probably more in Mr Tanner's area—is the issue raised by the Australian Wireless Audio Group, with which you are familiar. The point they put to us is that there are a very large number of devices that are going to run the risk of considerable interference following the restack and be rendered inoperable. That is obviously at very large financial cost to the organisations and individuals that own them. They say that there should have been notification to them some time ago where they were going to be relocated in the spectrum so that equipment could be bought that was able to operate in the new home, but that has not been done. This is obviously a very serious issue that has been raised very legitimately. I—and I am sure the committee too—would like to hear from you what the answer is to this problem, because it is a problem. How does this bill impact on it? What is going to be done about this group?
Ms O'Loughlin : We are very well aware of the concerns of AWAG. Both the department and the ACMA have been working with the sector on this issue for a quite considerable length of time. The bill does not really have an impact on their issue. All the bill does, as I mentioned, is make a technical change to make sure that auction bidders know what rules will apply when they have access to the spectrum.
Mr TURNBULL: So there is no early access being provided?
Ms O'Loughlin : There may be early access but it will very much depend on the restack process and the restack process will not be completed until the end of 2014. We are not looking, as I mentioned, at wholesale early access.
Let me turn to where we are at with the wireless microphone issue. The delay in the information that has been of concern to the sector is partly because we have been going through the restack planning process. That process is well advanced now—further advanced than it was even a couple of months ago. There has been quite a lot of information available around what channels will be used post the restack process. People have been concerned because they did not know when that would become available. That really comes down to our restack timetable. The department released last Friday its updated restack timetable and that gives much greater certainty to the sector about when things will happen over the coming two years.
Mr TURNBULL: Do these people have certainty as to where their new home will be?
Ms O'Loughlin : They do not, but they do not have certainty in the current environment about where their new home will be. They have it in the broad but wireless microphones in Australia operate in what is called the white spaces, so what they are looking for is certainty about where those new white spaces will be.
Mr TURNBULL: Isn't there a problem though that, in the absence of knowing the frequencies within which they can operate in the future, they are not in a position to buy new equipment that will operate in those new frequencies? If they had been nominated some time ago, as equipment rolled over they would have been able to buy kit that would work in those frequencies as well.
Ms O'Loughlin : I will pass to my colleague Giles Tanner, because he has been responsible for the planning.
Mr Tanner : There are two things that I guess you need to know to know where you can operate at a given time: you need to know which channels will be operated by broadcasters in any given area and which channels will be given up because of the digital dividend from the broadcasting bands and you need to know when that will occur. The channel planning has been proceeding over the last year and a half. The ACMA has been running that through legislative instruments called television licence area plans. They were finalised for all except the remote areas of Australia by the end of last year, so they give a high level of certainty about where the white spaces will be in any given part of the country. That is now embodied in television licence area plans. It was previously embodied in a general spectrum chart, which was a pretty accurate predictor. What was missing was the site-by-site timetable. We did not have very detailed information on that until recently, and that is the document which Ms O'Loughlin is referring to. A comprehensive site-by-site timetable was published by the department about a week and a half ago. So you can put those two things together: the site-by-site timetable is giving you a time frame, and our channel planning has already given a high level of certainty. We have known for a long time where the digital dividend will be and we have known with increasing reliability over the last year and a half where the white spaces will be, but we now have finalised television licence area plans showing the channel allocations everywhere, except that we are still just finalising them in remote Australia, and we now have a timetable as well. So it is getting all those pieces that I think has taken the time. It has been coming together, if you like.
Mr NEVILLE: On that point, if that were to transfer into new white spaces, do I hear you correctly on that?
Ms O'Loughlin : Some will and some will not.
Mr NEVILLE: Will that mean the change of equipment for all or some, or aren't we sure yet?
Ms O'Loughlin : The next stage of some of the work that we are undertaking is to understand that issue better. There is equipment in the market that will—
Mr NEVILLE: Listen, just before you go on. How can you say that you have done all this planning up to now but you cannot answer that fundamental question as to whether they will need new equipment or not until we progress it further? I would have thought it was fundamental at this stage to be able to tell these people who will have to buy new equipment and who will not have to buy new equipment. We are told—and I understand there is no firm data on this—that there are 150,000 users out there. If 100,000 or 120,000 have to buy new equipment, we are looking at a massive amount.
Mr Tanner : If I could just make a suggestion, there is a diversity of equipment out there. As a generalisation, there is expensive equipment with a lot of tunability and there is cheaper equipment which sometimes has less tunability. With some of that cheap equipment with little tunability, we will find that it is just operating in wrong bands that will not be available in the given area. If there are—
Mr NEVILLE: You say there is variable-frequency equipment available.
Mr Tanner : Yes, absolutely. If any group using such equipment had a concern, I would have expected that their first step—and this is something they could have done over the last two or three years, not even now going forward—would be to contact their suppliers about whether they even have a problem. So the suppliers of the many different kinds of equipment are a key source of information on this.
Mr HUSIC: But what I do not get with that is that you are saying that but the users themselves are clearly uptight about this. If they, given their day-to-day engagement with this equipment, knew that, why are they so uptight?
Ms O'Loughlin : Could I just go back one step. The planning is focused specifically on moving broadcasters who are in the spectrum at the moment. The wireless microphone operators operate in that spectrum without licensing and in the white spaces, so our primary focus is on the broadcasters. That said, we have been very aware of this issue over the last couple of years and we are working with the sector to develop solutions.
I have a brochure which may be helpful for the committee. It is a 2010 brochure by one of the main equipment suppliers. What this indicates is that what they have been putting out to their customers is a brochure that talks about the digital dividend spectrum, where people will have to move to and where their equipment can work across a variety of bands. So the industry itself has already been communicating. They have been out there for some considerable length of time, and they have been relying—
Mr STEPHEN JONES: The manufacturers and the suppliers?
Ms O'Loughlin : That is right, and they have been reliant on the material that the ACMA has had available for the last couple of years.
CHAIR: Could you just read the title of the document.
Mr HUSIC: I am still—
CHAIR: If you all wait and go one at a time, you will find that the department can answer your questions. Can you tell us which document?
Ms O'Loughlin : It is called the Shure Wireless Australian Radio Frequency Guide 2010.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: I have seen it before, so I think it has been presented somewhere.
Ms O'Loughlin : It may have been. In answer to the question about information, the submission before you is also very similar to a submission that has been provided to the ACMA as part of a consultation process that they have been going through. I believe that consultation process finished yesterday. They will be taking those issues into account in their consultation process. We recognise that the speed at which we have been moving on these matters has not been fast enough for people like AWAG, but I also think, to be fair, we have not been able to move faster than we have been because we have had a complex planning process up to this point. As I mentioned, channel plans have been available for some considerable length of time. We now have a restacked time table to say when things will happen. Our next step is to work with AWAG and others to make sure we have the right communication in the market about what needs to be done. It is a bit unclear because in the wireless audio market there are high-end providers who provide material that will tune to other spectrum automatically and other providers whose equipment may not do that. The next part of our process is to try to identify and try to get communication and information in the market early enough so people are ready when the new spectrum arrangements are in place. We recognise that that is not until 1 January 2015.
Mr TURNBULL: Mr Tanner, you mentioned that there are going to be white spaces still available in the 126 megahertz band. Is that right? My understanding was that there would not be.
Mr Tanner : The broadcasting bands currently run from 520 to 820, so that is a huge, 300-megahertz block of UHF. One hundred and twenty-six megahertz is coming off the top. That allows Australia to plan a telecommunications band that harmonises with the Asia-Pacific APT 600-megahertz plan. That is potentially lost to these types of class licence services. What is happening with the remainder? We used to have five or six broadcasting services at every site, transmitting in digital on one channel and analog on the other, using 300 megahertz. There is a bit of VHF, but I will leave that out. We will now move to a point where there is about 60 or 65 per cent as much UHF spectrum but also half as many broadcasters because we are turning off the analog. So there were lots of white spaces here and there before. There will be plenty of white spaces in future, but they will be in somewhat different places because we have configured the band differently. We have fitted the broadcasters in differently. So the main issue here is not some diminution of the amount of white space available. There is an issue that the location of the white space will change, and for some it will mean their equipment will not work with the new allotments. That is the issue.
Mr TURNBULL: That is a big issue. They are seeking compensation for that, but their concern is that they have not been told where the new white spaces will be available. Is that a fair criticism?
Mr Tanner : No, that information is out there. We know where the digital dividend is. We have known that for awhile now. I think it was in 2010 that the decision was formalised. We know now with a very high level of certainty where television is. We put out an indicative plan about channel location which gave you pretty reliable guidance early last year. We finalised television license air plans that put that into legislative instruments up to December last year.
Mr TURNBULL: So you are saying there will be sufficient white space for devices to operate in the 520 to 694 range. Is that right?
Mr Tanner : There may or may not be an issue of congestion in some areas—that is a separate issue—but it will not necessarily be worse than it was before. There was a fair bit of white space before and there will be a fair bit of white space in future, and we know where the white space is.
Mr TURNBULL: I am sure you know, but this looks like a recipe for a train wreck to some extent. You have 150,000 devices out there in the hands of people who are not telecommunications engineers, who are not reading your publications, who are suddenly going to find that they do not work anymore.
Mr Tanner : This is an issue with all class licence services. One of the corollaries of the class licence system which removes the burden of licensing by putting out a standing authorisation has a flip side that you do not have the names and addresses of all the people who are affected. So, when you change the arrangements of the class licence services, you have to reach them by indirect means.
Mr TURNBULL: What about an information campaign of some kind? Where is that happening?
Mr Tanner : This is why we are working with AWAG.
Ms O'Loughlin : That is exactly what we are working on at the moment given that this issue does not really bite until 2015 and also that we have only just been able to get the restacked time table process done. We recognise there may be frustration that we might be moving more slowly than the sector wants us to, but we have been going through our planning process and our activities will now start to ramp up with them. You are absolutely right that we will need to have a way of getting information out to users both through the industry and through ourselves and the ACMA to make sure people are informed well in advance.
Mr TURNBULL: But the problem is that what you are missing at the moment is a clear message that says, 'Equipment of this type will not work after 1 January 2015; therefore, you will need to get equipment of that type.
Ms O'Loughlin : That is right. The difficulty with these is that people will have equipment that is one year old, five years old, 10 years old, and it is always very difficult when you have a change of technology to be able to give precise details to everybody. We will, though, continue to work with the manufacturers and the people who are using this equipment to work out broadly where the main problems are. If the equipment—professional equipment particularly—is only being renewed every two years, which is probably the turnover for professional equipment, you do not really have an issue, but we have to find answers and get good communication out for those people who have had equipment for a long time who will not retune. So there is a wide variety of issues that we are looking at, and we will continue to work with the sector to make sure the right information is out there.
CHAIR: Presumably professional equipment gets regularly changed. Some of it will be able to adapt to the new spectrum. So we are not talking about everybody having to change over their equipment; we are talking about some proportion of that.
Ms O'Loughlin : And some people will have already wanted to change their equipment as just the normal life cycle of the product.
CHAIR: Is there any legal liability that might attach to the government from these changes? Can groups ask, 'Will you replace my equipment?'
Mr Tanner : No. One of the things about the sort of class licence services I am talking about is that they are typically used for devices that are secondary users of the band. They are given the licences very much on a no-protection basis. If they are interfered with, that is not our problem. We are currently revising the class licence so it recognises the somewhat changed white space opportunities in that part of the UHF band. The corollary, of course, is that there is no fuss about getting a licence. The fact is that your supplier should know what is authorised in Australia. Therefore, you get the equipment and take it home. There is no need to go talk to the government. When you think about it, you are probably carrying on your person at least two devices that are sending radio frequency waves that no-one sent you a licence from the ACMA for. The corollary of that regime is that there is not necessarily going to be protection if you are in shared spectrum. No-one has been coordinating whether there are a whole lot of you at a particular site.
CHAIR: So it is buyer beware.
Mr Tanner : There is the element of buyer beware when you are in the class licenced world, but I keep emphasising that, in the absence of a regulator which is responsible for coordinating your use of a wireless microphone here on that night, you do have a supplier that ought to be well versed in what they are selling and in how that fits in with the government's plans.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: That goes to my question. Who owns the licences, the user or the supplier?
Mr Tanner : Class licences are standing authorisations. You have a driver's licence; but if you could not do any harm with a car then we probably would not bother with driver's licences. I would put a big thing up on the internet that said, 'I hereby proclaim that you may drive a car if you subscribe to the following rules.' Then you would talk with Holden about getting a car and not worry about us. That is what a class licence is in shorthand. It is a standing authorisation.
Ms O'Loughlin : And that is why, because of the class licence nature of it, we do not know who has the equipment.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: Has any thought been given to requiring suppliers of goods which will rely on a class licence to warn or promote these issues to the end users of those products?
Ms O'Loughlin : There has been no requirement as such.
Mr Maurer : In our conversations over the last couple of years we have strongly encouraged them to do so. AWAG's membership includes a fair quotient of that. The document that Ms O'Loughlin was referring to was published by one of the main manufacturers in December 2010 and basically identifies their main lines of equipment and how they are tuneable over the state of knowledge they had in 2010 about where digital channels will be and where analog channels currently are. So they were tuned to the white spaces on either side. We have been encouraging them to do that. The information that is being put out by the ACMA and the department is being geared to allow them to do that. So there is reference to the indicative channel plan, which was published midway through last year. It basically provides the checker board of what channels will be used in each location and what the white space will be. We have a copy of it here, but it is available from the department's website as well. It shows an awful lot of white space in different locations.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: Is there any further legislative power that would be needed for the authority to mandate upon suppliers of non-tuneable devices that they had to issue the purchasers of those devices with a warning about potential disruption to frequency services? Would ACMA, the department or whoever the regulatory authority is require any further legislative power to enable you to do that?
Mr Tanner : We have wide powers to make industry standards that deal with those types of matters.
Mr STEPHEN JONES: So, if the committee were minded at the conclusion of this inquiry to make a recommendation to the executive that any supplier of a non-tuneable device that relied on a wireless frequency that was likely to be disrupted had to provide a warning—posthaste, I would have thought—that in future the use of that device may be downgraded, affected or made impossible to use then there would be no inhibition from any of the regulatory authorities in providing such a warning?
Mr Tanner : No, that would be within powers.
Mr HUSIC: You mentioned earlier that there has been discussion with AWAG about an education program. I am putting to you that they are claiming that there needs to be an education program. You might see it in the documents provided. Can I confirm with you that you have already started formal discussions with them about the education program?
Ms O'Loughlin : I do not believe we have started formal discussions with AWAG, but there was a workshop at the end of last year which I think the ACMA held.
Mr Major : We have had ongoing discussions with AWAG about these issues for a number of years now. Prior to us consulting publicly about the proposed changes to the low-impact devices class licence, we held a workshop on this very issue. AWAG attended and, indeed, presented at that conference and made many of the points that I have heard are in their submission.
Mr HUSIC: If I understand correctly from the question from Mr Turnbull to you, Ms O'Loughlin, he said something to the effect of, 'Surely you need to have an education campaign,' and you said, 'We are already talking to AWAG about that.'
Ms O'Loughlin : We have had some discussions through that process.
Mr HUSIC: This is the workshop process?
Ms O'Loughlin : Through the workshop process and through ongoing consultations with the ACMA.
Mr Major : Also AWAG has submitted to the consultation process on the class licence. As Ms O'Loughlin indicated before that consultation process closed yesterday, we are obviously now in the process of working through the submissions that we received and how we will respond to those submissions and what we do in terms of the amendment to the class licence. There is a lot of information that has come into the agency from AWAG and others in the course of the last couple of months and particularly in the last week or so with those submissions that we will digest and take forward in terms of how we communicate these messages we report.
Mr HUSIC: In their submission they talk at point 5 about a decision on the mid band gap. They say:
This spectrum of 745MHz to 755MHz sits in the middle of the digital dividend spectrum. It cannot be used by the telco's. Testing needs to be undertaken.
They are claiming that, despite representations, ACMA has not set a time line for this testing. Is that the case and will that testing be undertaken soon?
Mr Marinelli : That spectrum you speak of is part of a replanning exercise that we are doing for 800 and 900 megahertz band which sits just above the digital dividend. While no physical testing is planned for that we are looking at doing theoretical studies on whether that spectrum could be used for wireless microphones. However, we have not made a decision on whether that would be available for wireless microphone use at this stage, given that we are replanning those other bands. It is not just a matter of looking at whether it could be made available. We need to look at a holistic basis, based on replanning all those other bands.
Mr HUSIC: I understand that butt you said you were going to do some theoretical work on that. When do you plan to do that?
Mr Marinelli : We are hoping that there may be some indication by the middle of this year—optimistically maybe towards the end of this year—as to whether we could make that spectrum available for wireless microphones, based on the planning of those other bands.
CHAIR: There is just one thing I want to get straight. At the moment, say I am a small community organisation and using a cheap bit of equipment and that is operating in this white space area, and then the re-allocation happens and my device is not tuneable, if I keep using it, will it just not work? How does the world change in 2015 in an ideal and a not so ideal way?
Mr Marinelli : Changing of the licence does not stop the equipment from working. It will still continue to work. What there will be as the mobile broadband services roll out will be a chance of interference to that device which will then impair its usefulness or its ability to work.
CHAIR: Can the licence holder sue me for using it if I am the community organisation? Could the telco or whoever bought the licence stop me using it?
Ms O'Loughlin : The class licence does have a condition that they should not interfere.
Mr Maurer : It is more likely that the user of the audio device would face interference from a more powerful broadcast because these audio devices tend to be fairly low power. The reality is some of the white space continues from the current plan to the new plan so that there are going to be people that are not affected at all. A lot of people are using these indoors and that actually prevents an awful lot of interference as well and it is why we need to look at the full range of equipment. Even the medium-range equipment is tuneable, so it is not bound to operate in a single band. Basically, they could go from channel A to channel B on their little switch. What I am saying is the high-end ones have a range so they can be tuned in and they are pretty professional gear. But even for the lower end equipment, because at the moment the white spaces are located in different parts of the spectrum in different parts of Australia, TV channels in different parts of Australia broadcast in slightly different areas of spectrum. If I am in New South Wales, I have a slightly different pattern of white spaces than I do in South Australia. A lot of the mid-range equipment is not necessarily linked to a single channel. You can flick a switch and you are on an alternate channel, so that might work out for them as well. Also, if they are operating indoors, a lot of problems will just go away.
Mr HUSIC: I understand completely why we need this bill to go through in terms of the telcos. My big worry is that all of these community groups, 150,000 users, then have to reinvest in your equipment, which is easier for some. There will be some people in that 150,000 that will easily be able to shoulder that cost, but for community groups, it is a—
CHAIR: Please correct my understanding—we do not actually know the figure. That 150,000 is a guesstimate.
Mr HUSIC: That number is what AWAG is putting forward.
CHAIR: But even of that number, it is not going to be the full 150,000, is it? There is a range of equipment out there and so it may be as little as 1,000.
Ms O'Loughlin : That is right. As Mr Maurer said, some, not just the high-end, will be able to adapt. The issue of indoor use is really important because that may not require any change whatsoever, if they are using it indoors.
Our next stage of this process, which does actually sit right outside this bill, is to ramp up our communications activities working with AWAG to make sure that we have got the adequate information on the market that people need, and to do a bit more work around the messaging that we need to give to people, recognising that there will be some who will be able to adapt easily and there will be what we think is a small number who will need to possibly upgrade their equipment, and giving them at least 18 months to two years to think about upgrading.
Mr HUSIC: Let me just ask you, if you restack the spectrum, and you have got these users that you know sit in the 520 to 820 megahertz bandwidth, after that restack process is complete, will the people who are currently on those bandwidths—and I know that some people will cast doubt on this 150,000 figure, but in terms of risk management it is better to be conservative and go for the 150,000 figure—be able to use their equipment after this legislation goes through?
Ms O'Loughlin : All this legislation does is say that if telcos get early access to some part of the spectrum—
Mr HUSIC: Outside that bandwidth of 520 to 820?
Ms O'Loughlin : Outside that bandwidth. If they get access earlier than 1 January 2015, which is when their licences commence—and if some spectrum becomes available because the restack in the area has finished and the broadcasters are all out of that band and the telcos want to access that spectrum—all this bill does is to say that the datacasting rules in the current broadcasting legislation will not apply to those telcos. That is all it does.
Mr HUSIC: The datacasting?
Ms O'Loughlin : The datacasting rules.
Mr HUSIC: I am drawing a blank on that. In answering my question, after all of that process, that 150,000 or fewer—
Ms O'Loughlin : It will not. What will affect them is if a telco starts earlier in their area. But this bill does not do anything about a wholesale revision of the timetable. It is just that, under the legislation, the ACMA can give early access under special circumstances.
Mr Tanner : I will just put this in a bit of context. We are in the process of conducting an auction of the spectrum licences, and we have to be very, very certain about what the product is that we are selling. We have got a thing called the applicant information pack, which is like a prospectus for the licences, and we deal with every impediment we are aware of. One of the things we have had to raise, because of the current law, is that—while we fully expect that the restack will be finished before 1 January 2015, when these licences commence—if for any reason the broadcasting services band declaration still covers that spectrum for one day or one month after 2014, then certain obligations that were designed without telecommunication licences in mind, including the obligation to maintain a datacasting licence, may apply to you, the telecommunications operator.
We have disclosed that this is a problem for the telcos. It is a risk. We have also disclosed that the minister has advised us that he is proposing to remove that requirement, and we have said that we will keep people posted. We saw this legislation as a useful piece of housekeeping to make sure that the product that went was absolutely certain. We removed this spectre that there might be a requirement to take out a datacasting licence, which is a license that costs money and also has some regulatory requirements that sit oddly with telecommunications. We think it is a source of uncertainty on the product, which we would prefer to get rid of.
The auction is scheduled to begin on 16 April, which is why we have been trying to encourage the department to proceed quickly and fix the problem. For us, it is very much about removing that uncertainty on telecommunications operators. I can see that this committee is very concerned about a significant issue with the digital dividend, which is wireless microphones. My point, as to the connection between this legislation and the wireless microphones issue, is that there is one, but it is a fairly at-several-removes one. You could say, 'Well, this does not just remove Mr Tanner's concern about the digital dividend licences, but it might also make early access by a telco a little bit more tempting, because that same uncertainty would apply to an early access licence.' That is the only connection that I can see between this piece of legal housekeeping, which is removing an inappropriate piece of regulation from telecommunications operators, and the big issue which we are talking about today, which is how we manage the migration of the wireless microphone community.
Ms O'Loughlin : And those concerns are around the broader digital dividend restack process, and it is on that process that we will continue engaging with AWAG to make sure that we can address the concerns.
CHAIR: I am just a bit concerned that the figure of 150,000 gets thrown around a bit. Do we have a rough idea, or a guesstimate, of how many people who are in that might have to change?
Mr Maurer : It has been the focus of our discussion with AWAG over the last couple of years. I cannot speak to how they have arrived at the 150,000, but I suspect that they know how much equipment they have sold over the past five to seven years, and then they speculate on the life of that equipment, and on how much might still be out in the marketplace.
CHAIR: Would that be correct or would it be significantly less than that?
Mr Maurer : We have no way of knowing exactly how much equipment is out there—
Mr Tanner : We just don't have better information than the suppliers.
Mr Maurer : and is still is in use. What we do know is that, in terms of the channel structures and the white space around them, in some areas there is a continuity of the white space, and equipment might be out there using that white space. It becomes a little bit speculative.
Our conversations with AWAG have partly been about what information they have and what information they need, but the other part of the equation is about who they are able to contact with this information. They are very much on the manufacturer import side, and they do not have the linkage into the smaller-end users. They tend to have good relationships with the high-end users like theatrical companies and that sort of thing. That is part of the challenge of an informational approach. It comes back to that question earlier about whether we can require them to flag to people the limitations or the possibilities with their equipment. The document that Ms O'Loughlin referred to earlier is one of their early attempts to do that, and their information that they have been putting out—that one is a particularly good example—has been linking back to the ACMA website, which has the channel plan and the DBCDE website, which, as you have heard, has put out some more information.
CHAIR: I suppose it would be wise, if you were going to use this sort of device or about to purchase one, to make yourself fully informed before you did it. Would that be a precautionary principle?
Mr Major : Yes, and the ACMA has information on its website exactly to that effect—that you should consult with the supplier about that—and also to caution people to ensure that wireless microphones will continue to be able to operate.
Ms O'Loughlin : Given the concerns of the committee, we would be quite willing to provide a regular update to the committee on the process, if that would be useful.
CHAIR: I think that regular briefings would be most welcome.
Ms O'Loughlin : We would be more than happy to do that.
CHAIR: On that note, and given that we are about to have divisions, I will thank you for your attendance at the hearing today. The secretariat will send you a draft transcript of proceedings. Requests can be made if you need to correct any errors of transcription.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Husic):
That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
CHAIR: I declare this public hearing closed.
Committee adjourned at 12 : 00