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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2930


Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (9:51 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010 amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and related legislation to address areas of digital television signal deficiency, or black spots, and to enable the provision of all free-to-air television services to every Australian.

On 5 January 2010, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced that the government would fund a new satellite service to bring digital television to all Australians who cannot adequately receive terrestrial digital television services.

The new satellite service is intended to deliver the same number of digital television channels to these areas that are available in the metropolitan markets. In addition the service will provide regional viewers with access to the local news currently broadcast in their local terrestrial licence areas via a dedicated news channel.

This bill introduces a legislative framework for the implementation of the new satellite service.

The amendments will create three new commercial television licence areas specifically for the new satellite service. These are:

  • Northern Australia which will encompass the Northern Territory and Queensland;
  • South eastern Australia which will encompass the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria; and
  • Western Australia.

There will be one new commercial satellite service licence per satellite licence area. Initially, only existing remote commercial television broadcasting licensees will be eligible to apply for the licences.

The satellite service will encompass both national and commercial channels, delivered over a common satellite platform. Access will be through a satellite dish and a set-top box.

Satellite delivery of the national broadcasting services, the ABC and SBS, will be available to any viewer in Australia in their local time zone through the new satellite service. The main standard definition services offered by the national broadcasters, ABC1 and SBS ONE, would be delivered on an individual state and territory basis with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory, which would be served by the New South Wales services.

Access to commercial channels will be managed by a conditional access system administered by regional broadcasters, and overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. All Australians living in remote television licence areas will have access to the new commercial satellite service. Any Australians in non-remote regional or metropolitan television licence areas, and who do not receive adequate terrestrial digital television, will also have access.

From the commencement of the satellite service, the licensee of the satellite service will be required to provide a service that offers an equivalent number of commercial digital television channels as is enjoyed in metropolitan markets—that is, three main channels, three standard-definition multichannels, and three high-definition multichannels.

It is expected that the commercial digital television channels on the new satellite service will be provided by existing remote commercial television broadcasting licensees using affiliation and supply arrangements agreed with metropolitan networks. To allow the licensee of each satellite service to meet its licence conditions in the absence of such arrangements, this bill places an obligation on remote commercial television broadcasters to supply their digital television channels to the relevant satellite service licensee. There is then a corresponding requirement on the satellite licensee to broadcast them.

If, at the commencement of the satellite service, a remote commercial television licensee is unable to provide one or more digital television multichannels, the satellite service licensee will be required to provide equivalent replacement channels from a metropolitan television broadcasting licensee.

Metropolitan commercial television broadcasting licensees will also be required to make their programming content available on the satellite service if requested by a satellite service licensee.

Satellite service licensees will not be required to provide identical programming to that provided in metropolitan areas. The satellite licensee will have the flexibility to adjust or substitute programming subject to commercial agreement, for example, to show sporting events or advertising that may be more relevant to the local audience served by the satellite service.

Importantly, the new satellite service will provide news and information sourced from the regional commercial television broadcasters operating in the relevant satellite licence area.

In the South-Eastern Australia and Northern Australia satellite licence areas, the regional news service will be delivered via a dedicated channel that will aggregate local news content from the relevant regional commercial broadcasters. In Western Australia, a separate news channel is not required, as the satellite licence area will be geographically the same as the existing remote licence area. Hence the satellite licensee will be able to provide local news and information through the main channels of the relevant Western Australian remote broadcasters provided on the satellite service.

To support the news channel, regional commercial television broadcasting licensees will be required to make available local news and information program material to the relevant satellite service licensee. The satellite service licensee will be required to provide that local news on the satellite service as soon as practicable after the regional licensee begins to broadcast the program in the regional licence area. This addresses the cyclical nature of local news and information provided by regional broadcasters.

The government expects that commercial agreements between broadcasters will underpin the delivery of programming to the satellite service licensee. In circumstances where appropriate commercial agreements are not in place, the bill introduces amendments to enable the continued provision of television services. The bill will insert a statutory licensing scheme into the Copyright Act 1968 to permit, subject to equitable remuneration, the use of programming provided to a satellite service licensee by the remote, regional or metropolitan broadcasters.

Should a satellite service licensee contravene its licence conditions about the provision of digital television services and local news, the Australian Communications and Media Authority may give the licensee written notice that if the contravention continues for more than 30 days, the licence may be cancelled. If the contravention continues, the Australian Communications and Media Authority must cancel the satellite service licence and commence a re-allocation process open to any applicant with the capacity to provide the satellite service.

Although unlikely, it is conceivable that there could be circumstances where, after the commencement of the satellite service, a remote television broadcasting licensee stops providing digital television services to their terrestrial licence area. This would mean that the remote commercial broadcaster would then be unable to provide their digital television channels for broadcast on the satellite service, potentially placing the satellite licensee in breach of its licence condition. In such a situation, satellite service licensees would not be required to immediately replace that remote broadcaster’s channels (although they could choose to do so). However, they would be required to broadcast them as soon as the remote broadcaster’s channels are re-established.

Satellite service licensees will be required to comply with the relevant program standards and captioning requirements that apply to terrestrial commercial television broadcasting licensees. But the bill will also take into account the regulatory and technical complexities that satellite service licensees face when broadcasting across a number of time zones.

The Australian content standards, the Children’s Television Standards, and the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, all impose requirements on broadcasters in relation to when certain material can be broadcast. This will cause difficulties for a satellite service transmitting a single program stream in several states or territories with different time zones (for example, across South Australia and New South Wales in the South-Eastern Australia satellite licence area).

To address this, the amendments in the bill will allow a satellite service broadcaster to nominate the time in a particular geographic location against which their broadcasting services shall be regulated.

The bill will also ensure that the regulation that applies to the terrestrial transmission of anti-siphoning events will also apply to services provided by a satellite service licensee. This includes the rules that apply to the transmission of anti-siphoning events on digital multi-channel services.

The bill also introduces measures to allow all commercial free-to-air digital television services, including digital multi-channels such as GO!, 7TWO and ONE HD, to be provided to Australians no matter where they live. Currently, legislation does not allow commercial broadcasters to provide the full range of digital television services in a small number of licence areas where historically there were fewer than three commercial broadcasters. The bill amends the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to allow commercial broadcasters in regional South Australia, Griffith and Broken Hill to apply for a third, digital-only commercial licence.

This means that broadcasting licensees in such ‘underserved’ areas may have the same opportunity as other regional and metropolitan broadcasting licensees to provide a full suite of digital television services in their licence area.

Further, in recognition of the special circumstances of terrestrial broadcasters operating in these smaller markets, the amendments permit these broadcasters to provide all of their digital services in standard definition format only. These broadcasters will still have the option to provide high-definition multi-channels but they will not be required to do so.

After switchover, commercial television broadcasters in these markets, like all other commercial television broadcasters, will have the option of providing any combination of standard and high-definition channels within their allocated spectrum.

The measures in this bill will help broadcasters provide the same range of digital television services to all Australians wherever they live, whether they access through terrestrial transmission or via satellite. It will dramatically improve the choice and quality of digital television services for regional Australia as we move towards digital switchover. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Southcott) adjourned.