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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2412

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:41): I am sure some constituents of mine are at home tuning into this parliamentary broadcast and wondering what this Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend) Bill 2013 is all about. We have heard a lot about spectrums and auctions and specific devices. I would like to spend a few moments trying to put that into a broader context for the benefit of my constituents.

What is this bill all about? It is about managing our spectrum. As you know, spectrum is the space through which radio waves are transmitted. Traditionally it was used to transmit a radio broadcasting signal for the benefit of wireless radio listeners. Then we saw the development of TV, radio telegraph, radio telecommunications, radio communications through phones and faxes and, as the member for Cowper discussed in his contribution to this debate, the use of radio spectrum by in-house and in-venue wireless devices—from remote-controlled motor devices to radio-controlled microphones and sound systems. In fact it would be hard to find a business venue where there was not some use of a wireless device which relied on radio transmission.

The development of digital technologies has enhanced the capacity, and enabled a more efficient use, of the available spectrum—which is a limited resource. There is a limited amount of spectrum we can use commercially and for other purposes. The development of digital technologies enables us to use that more efficiently and enables us to use radio waves in our spectrum for more and more services—multichannel broadcasting, enhanced telephony and wireless broadband, for example.

This legislation comes about because of the development of the digitisation of broadcasting. It enables us to free up a whole heap of spectrum which was once used for broadcasting TV and radio transmissions. It enables us to restack and re-use that spectrum for other purposes. It is obviously a valuable resource. The government will be using an auction mechanism to get the best return for that valuable resource.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend) Bill 2013 makes minor amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to facilitate the commencement of telecommunications and broadband service in the digital dividend spectrum before that spectrum is removed from the broadcasting services band. The release of television spectrum is a significant benefit of the digital switchover process. The auction of this spectrum in April 2013 will pave the way for next generation mobile services in Australia such as 4G mobile services.

Following the completion of the auction, the Australian Communications and Media Authority may agree to allow the successful bidders at the digital dividend auction to commence services prior to the digital dividend spectrum being redesignated out of the broadcasting services bands. ACMA will consider on a case-by-case basis any applications from incoming spectrum licensees who seek early access to the digital dividend spectrum.

The bill will amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to remove an impediment to the potential early commencement of telecommunications and broadcasting services in the digital dividend spectrum by clarifying that these new services will not be covered by the datacasting licensing regime. Specifically, the bill will amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to generally limit the application of the datacasting regime to those datacasting services currently provided by commercial and national free-to-air television broadcasters.

The bill will also amend the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to provide the minister with the ability to specify, by legislative instrument, the kinds of datacasting services that would be considered designated datacasting services and will therefore be required to hold datacasting licences. This will provide the minister with the ability to expand the scope of the datacasting regime if the circumstances warrant.

Finally, the bill will make minor amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 to effectively implement the main elements of the bill and will repeal a spent provision that refers to a statutory review that has already been conducted and tabled in parliament. The amendments in the bill will not affect the existing regulation that applies to datacasting services currently provided by the commercial broadcasters such as the Seven Network's 4ME, Win Television's GOLD, the Nine Network's Extra and Network Ten's Television Shopping Network. These services will be unaffected by the bill and will be able to continue in accordance with existing datacasting licences.

In short, the measures in the bill will help manage the interim or transition period between the auction and the removal of the digital dividend spectrum from the broadcasting services bands. Once the digital dividend spectrum has been removed from the broadcasting services band, datacasting regulation will not apply to any services using this spectrum. The spectrum will be removed once it has been cleared of digital television services by the restack, which is expected to be completed by 31 December 2014. Failure to pass the bill during the autumn 2013 sittings would mean that bidders in the April 2013 digital dividend auction would not have regulatory certainty or confidence about the rules that will apply to their use of that spectrum prior to it being removed from the broadcasting services band. It is plain and obvious that were that to occur the value that the government and therefore the taxpayers of Australia could realise from the auctioning of this spectrum would be severely diminished.

In conclusion, this is an important process in enabling us to manage the digitalisation and the restacking and therefore the re-auction of valuable spectrum to free it up and make it available for other purposes. We know that the use of wireless and mobile telephony services and wireless broadband are key economic drivers for the future of this country. When put hand in hand with the rollout of the National Broadband Network, this shows once again that this government is doing what it can to ensure that we have the essential infrastructure in place to drive the economic developments of a future economy. I commend the legislation to the House.