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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS
COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO
Australian Communications and Media Authority
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS
Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Australian Communications and Media Authority
Senator IAN MACDONALD
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS
(Senate-Thursday, 24 May 2007)
COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO
Australian Communications and Media Authority
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Australian Communications and Media Authority
- COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS - 24/05/2007 - COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO - Australian Communications and Media Authority
CHAIR —Mr Chapman, do you wish to make an opening statement?
Mr Chapman —No, I do not, except to note that I am joined by my colleagues at the table today—all five of my general managers, my deputy chair and my other full-time executive member of the authority. Thank you for the opportunity to appear. It hardly seems like three months ago that we were here. It seems like three weeks. I have no opening statement.
CHAIR —Thank you for bringing so many staff.
Senator CONROY —I would like to congratulate you on your willingness to turn up and to have yourself and your staff come to estimates. It is a pity that not everybody follows your example. I would like to ask you a number of questions about where the audit of Telstra’s 3G network coverage is at. Where are we at in the process?
Mr Chapman —Mr Tanner has operational responsibility for that and he will take you through it.
Mr Tanner —The audit is in two stages. The first stage was completed in the first quarter of this year, which was a large sample of the CDMA coverage. The second half of the audit will be a sample of exactly the same cells. It is about 100 cells over a route of several thousand kilometres of the 3G network. We would not be undertaking that until we are advised by Telstra that they consider that they have achieved same or better coverage and that the networks are ready for comparison. We are anticipating that will occur in the third quarter of this year, but we do not have a more explicit date than that. We stand ready to complete the audit and report to the government.
Senator CONROY —When you say you did a large audit of the CDMA, what did that involve?
Mr Tanner —Basically we engaged a private sector consultant, Zamro International, with a lot of expertise in this area. They had a truck with equipment for measuring call connections and performance. They were accompanied on a route that bore some resemblance to but was largely different from the route to be put out in a public tender. From memory, that route took them around four states, several thousand kilometres and through approximately 100 cells over a period of about seven or eight days in January-February. The staff on board that vehicle basically continuously made calls and measured whether they got through and whether the calls—
Senator CONROY —This is on the CDMA network?
Mr Tanner —Yes, this is the CDMA network. We did not purport to measure the 3G network—although that was already very extensive—because we have not been advised by Telstra that they consider they have achieved their goal yet. We will do that second measurement once we have that word from them.
Senator CONROY —Telstra are not making the claim to you that they have got equivalent coverage yet?
Mr Tanner —No. Telstra have made a number of claims, including that the rollouts proceeded a lot faster than was anticipated last year, and, from memory, they have achieved something like 98 per cent of the population covered. That is from memory, but they have not advised us that they have achieved their goal and we are awaiting the word from them, which we expect in the third quarter. Just to complete that, having got that data from the drive, what the consultant then does with ACMA staff is to analyse that and basically use that to draw conclusions about the coverage and also about the accuracy of the maps that Telstra uses about what it warrants its coverage is. That was then the subject matter of a report to the government.
Senator CONROY —Did anyone accompany the consultants on their trek?
Mr Tanner —Yes, an engineer from ACMA accompanied the consultants.
Senator CONROY —Anyone else?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator CONROY —Telstra has already started advertising the fact that the CDMA network is going to close. Has ACMA or the 3G working group given Telstra the indication that everything is shipshape with the 3G coverage and that the CDMA switch-off can proceed?
Mr Tanner —As the 3G working group is convened by DCITA, and ACMA has certain specified roles in that, I would be more comfortable with questions of that kind going to the department, if that is all right, Senator.
Senator CONROY —No, it is not. Have you or the 3G working group discussed Telstra’s advertising your CDMA switch-off with the company?
Mr Tanner —We have not. As I said, I would rather refer the 3G working group questions to the department unless they bear on ACMA’s role with that.
Mr Chapman —It would be fair to say that, with respect to ACMA, we have not.
Mr Tanner —Yes. Certainly with respect to ACMA we have not. I should make quite clear that ACMA has specified roles in relation to quality of coverage and also coverage. That is the particular area of accountability that ACMA brings into the working group.
Senator CONROY —I appreciate Mr Chapman saying that ACMA have not had a conversation. Has the 3G working group, which you are on?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —I presume you attend the meetings, Mr Tanner?
Mr Tanner —I do, yes.
Senator CONROY —You do not, Mr Chapman. Has the 3G working group had a discussion about the Telstra advertising?
Mr Tanner —Not to my knowledge.
Senator CONROY —Minister, the Telstra advertising states emphatically that the CDMA network is going to be turned off on 1 January. Are you comfortable with them advertising that at the moment given that it is still a matter for some technical consideration, never mind potential political consideration?
Senator Coonan —Subject to advice I get from the department—and of course this working group is working with Telstra’s cooperation—I do think this matter should be raised with Telstra and I will be raising it directly with Telstra. In fact, I intend to have a letter written to Telstra saying that, given that some of these matters may not be happening in the time frame that Telstra expected—or, indeed, that the working group expected—we may need to revisit the switch-off date and claims made about it. That may be a premature view but it is appropriate that I raise it with Telstra and I am. In fact, I had instructed the department to prepare a letter.
Senator CONROY —Have you signed the letter?
Senator Coonan —It has not been done but it will be done.
Mr Tanner —I should also add that my recollection is that Telstra would not be able to decommission the network before the end of January because of existing contractual arrangements with resellers of its capacity. So that 1 January date would not be correct anyway.
Senator CONROY —What does the advertisement say?
Mr Tanner —I am sorry, I do not know what the advertisement says.
Senator CONROY —I do not want to verbal Telstra. I just do not have a copy in front of me.
Senator Coonan —It may be premature but it is a reasonable concern and we need to make sure that there is equivalent or better coverage, because that is the assurance I was given. I want to give Telstra an opportunity to make sure they can do this on a voluntary basis. There is always the capacity to make licence conditions. I do not think that I need to go there but I do think it is timely just to raise with Telstra how they are going and the advertising in respect of it.
Senator CONROY —I have received a number of complaints from constituents who have upgraded from CDMA to 3G and are experiencing coverage problems. One issue that has been particularly annoying to these affected residents is that, often when they call Telstra to complain about coverage, they are told that according to Telstra’s coverage maps they already have coverage. I have got an example of this from The Canberra Times Consumer Voice column from 21 May. The column told the story of a Sutton resident who contacted Telstra to complain about 3G coverage in the area, only to be told by Telstra:
Our coverage maps show there is good Next G network coverage in Sutton including, for voice, picture, TV, video and broadband.
However, when this resident continued to complain, Telstra subsequently sent network technicians to the area who confirmed that the network coverage was inadequate. I have heard similar stories to this directly myself. Given this discrepancy between Telstra’s coverage maps and actual coverage, what measures does the audit have in place to ensure that the actual coverage of 3G networks mirrors that of the CDMA network?
Mr Tanner —Our audit is looking at both actual coverage and the accuracy of the maps so it is possible for us to draw conclusions on the basis of our sample. As I said, it is a large and representative sample. I should add that a small number of complaints about performance have come through to ACMA as well, but our policy is to refer those to Telstra, which as your question shows, is putting a fair bit of effort into addressing people’s complaints. So that is where we are directing people with those problems.
Senator CONROY —Has ACMA or the minister received any feedback from industry regarding the rigor of the methodology being used in this coverage audit and, if so, what was the nature of the feedback?
Mr Tanner —The methodology has been extensively canvassed—I should say this was largely before my time on the committee—inside the coverage subgroup of the working group, and all views were taken account of. I am not aware that there is any questioning now of the rigor of the methodology within the working group and I am not aware of criticisms of the rigor from outside.
Senator CONROY —It has been suggested to me that there is an east coast bias to the areas being tested for 3G coverage.
Mr Tanner —In essence, the approach taken is not to measure every cell in Australia, which would cost several million dollars; it is to look at a representative sample having regard to variables such as terrain, type of vegetation, climate and so on, which actually affect coverage. Because it is a truck-based sample, yes, the route is largely in the eastern half—or it may be entirely in the eastern half—of Australia. It is a secret route. We do not want Telstra to know precisely what we are following.
Senator CONROY —That keeps them honest. That is a colloquial term. I was not suggesting criminal behaviour.
Mr Tanner —Yes. As it is a sample-based approach, I guess we are open to that accusation that there is an east coast bias. My response would be that the sample is representative, therefore the conclusions that we have drawn are sound for other parts of the country.
Senator CONROY —How could it be representative if it was entirely east coast based?
Senator WEBBER —I am from Western Australia. How can we be sure that the sample is representative of the specific terrain that we have in WA?
Senator CONROY —I am sure you have covered Senator Nash’s house, but what about the west?
Senator WEBBER —So is Senator Eggleston, so I am sure that we have the same concerns.
Mr Tanner —I am advised that there is a representative sample of terrain types to the extent that they affect propagation and coverage. That is my engineering advice.
Senator NASH —Is there any testing being done in Western Australia?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator WEBBER —I would like to place on the record that I have serious concerns.
Senator NASH —Can I just follow that up with: why not?
Mr Tanner —Because we have taken the approach of looking at a representative sample. If you take a representative sample—this is representative of types of terrain and other variables that affect coverage—it would not matter from a scientific point of view whether you did it all in Queensland provided it was representative and provided there were not types of cells whose performance you could not model or predict the existence of in Western Australia. My engineering advice is that you can do that.
Senator WEBBER —Your engineering advice guarantees that every type of cell that we have in Western Australia can be found in Queensland? There is nothing unique about the conditions in Western Australia.
Mr Tanner —We have not done this entirely in Queensland. I was using that as an example.
Senator WEBBER —I know, but that is the most logical place to claim it represents Western Australia.
Mr Tanner —We have done it in four states.
Ms Scott —We have within the department given consideration to whether we need to do additional testing at some stage. We have effectively reserved the right, if necessary, to ask that additional tests be done. We have held that in reserve.
Senator CONROY —How big are the trucks?
Mr Tanner —I could not tell you. As a matter of fact, I have not seen the truck.
Senator CONROY —You have not seen the truck?
Mr Tanner —I do not know that it is that large.
Senator CONROY —There has been some criticism that there is a lack of testing of coverage in off-highway areas. In other words, the truck is really sticking to the highways. Are you aware that the truck has left the highway at any stage? Probably an easy question would be: has it left Highway 1.
Mr Tanner —I am not sure of the exact details of the route. It is a very large route and I would say that it has gone along some pretty empty back roads, but I could not honestly tell you how minor a road.
Senator CONROY —Is it off the highway?
Mr Tanner —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —It has been suggested to me that the routes are basically around major highways rather than covering the vast expanse of our country.
Mr Tanner —The important thing to note is that we have included in our sample a number of the cells that are configured to deal with the largest and most sparsely settled areas. Sometimes these are called ‘boomer cells’. We have certainly taken these into account. I am not sure why it would matter whether you approached the cell and measured coverage along the highway or whether you approached by a dirt road off to the side. I am not sure that that is going to be material to the conclusions you draw about the accuracy of the map or the coverage.
Senator CONROY —It is just that highways do not go everywhere.
Mr Tanner —That is true but this is a sample. We have taken a sample. We have not driven around every cell.
Senator CONROY —You took it upon yourself to use a representative sample which included only the east coast and none of Western Australia, so forgive me if I am a little sceptical of your definition of a sample of highways versus off-roads. On your definition, you could have done a representative sample that never left Highway 1.
Mr Tanner —I may want to change this answer after discussion with my engineers, but my understanding is that the method of measuring a cell consists of basically approaching the boundary and measuring when we are able to make a call and at what point we are able to hold a call. We would then pass through the cell and measure to the other side. Once again we are sampling the cell. We are not purporting to go all over the cell. This audit was done in approximately eight days. It was not something where you would do anything other than sample the performance of the cell.
Senator CONROY —Eight days to cover the country representatively?
Mr Tanner —Eight days to look at a representative and large sample of the cells that Telstra is using, with something of a bias towards rural and regional areas that are most dependent on the CDMA and 3G service.
Senator CONROY —Without leaving the east coast?
Mr Tanner —No. We certainly went a long way inland. In fact we included South Australia in the route.
Senator CONROY —Nowhere in WA?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator CONROY —Did we just nip into South Australia?
Mr Tanner —I understand it was four states.
Senator CONROY —Tasmania?
Mr Tanner —I am not privy to the exact details because it is a secret.
Senator CONROY —Did you cover Tasmania?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator CONROY —You left Tasmania off as well.
—I think I have made clear the process that has been taken.
Senator CONROY —Don’t tell the President of the Senate. He has a jail, you know.
Mr Tanner —I have given you all the information I can about that and you can form your own opinion.
Senator CONROY —We have covered New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia—
Mr Tanner —And Victoria.
Senator CONROY —No Tasmania, Northern Territory or Western Australia?
Mr Tanner —That is correct.
Senator CONROY —And obviously the ACT?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —I appreciate you made the point that you did not send the crew along the route that you tendered for—a wise precaution.
Mr Tanner —That is right.
Senator CONROY —Are the areas to be tested in the CDMA, or the proposed 3G tests—whenever you get around to them—to be made known to Telstra before the audit?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator CONROY —Was Telstra aware of what days the test was taking place?
Mr Tanner —They were probably aware in general terms, but I do not believe we gave them any specific information. We certainly gave them no information about where we were on the route as well. I suspect Telstra had a general idea of when we were doing that. Once again, with respect to the 3G tests, they know we will do it soon after they tell us that they are ready for the measurement to occur. But they will not know where we are on any given day. They will not know whether we are backtracking or taking spurs—
Senator CONROY —Do you say, ‘Look, we are out on the road these two weeks’? And that does not identify which day or where you are on an individual day?
Mr Tanner —I think in general terms they would know when we were likely to do the audit. They would know we would be doing it over December-January, for example, but that is all they would have known.
Senator CONROY —Is ACMA aware of allegations that Telstra allowed its CDMA coverage to be degraded before the base audit took place, to set a lower benchmark?
Mr Tanner —I am not aware of those allegations.
Senator CONROY —Would they be of concern if they were accurate?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —Turn the switch—
Mr Tanner —Obviously they would be, yes.
Senator CONROY —Did the company that won this audit, I think it was—
Mr Tanner —Zamro International.
Senator CONROY —Did Zamro International propose any further measures to ACMA or the minister to alleviate any concerns regarding the rigour of the coverage audit?
Mr Tanner —Not to my knowledge. I might take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —And, if they proposed any changes or additions, could you tell us what they were, and were the proposals acted on and, if not, why not?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —What happens if the 3G network fails the audit process? Will there be another audit held or will Telstra merely be directed to improve the identified problem areas?
Mr Tanner —I think that is a question for the government in the first instance.
Senator CONROY —Minister?
Senator Coonan —Sorry, what was the question?
Senator CONROY —I was just asking: if the 3G network audit fails, what happens next? Will there be another audit or will Telstra merely be directed to improve the identified problem areas? Will they not be allowed to switch off? What—
Senator Coonan —I think it would depend very much on the nature of the report and the advice that I get following this working group. It is a bit difficult to speculate about what would be an appropriate response. Suffice to say that the government is engaged in ensuring that there is equivalent coverage or better with this new technology which, provided that it works and it is available and it has the characteristics claimed for it, will provide much better and upgraded services. We support that. But it is not to be at the expense of people being disadvantaged who otherwise have a service under CDMA. I would want to look critically at how the audit went and take some advice about the best way to approach it given the broad commitment that the government has made in relation to it.
Senator CONROY —I would like to move from coverage for a moment to the issue of prepaid phone availability. Has the 3G working group discussed the issue of prepaid phone availability?
Mr Tanner —The 3G group met very recently, and there may have been some mention of the recent reporting of this issue. I do not recall, though, that there was a lot of discussion.
Senator CONROY —Did the working group determine anything about Telstra obligations with respect to prepaid availability?
Mr Tanner —Not to my knowledge.
Senator CONROY —Presumably they are not going to be allowed to sell prepaid phones in December, for instance? The network is potentially going to be turned off in—
Mr Tanner —I do not have any information for you on that. The department may have more to say, but I do not recall that much was said—
Senator CONROY —The commitment made by Telstra with respect to CDMA was: ‘The existing CDMA network and Telstra and BigPond wireless broadband services will remain in place until a national 3G service is providing the same or better coverage and services.’ In ACMA’s view, does this statement encompass a commitment to provide the same or better prepaid phone services?
Mr Tanner —It is not something I have turned my mind to.
Senator CONROY —We have waited a long time for Telstra to release its prepaid offerings for 3G. This week, however, Telstra announced the availability of prepaid phones for 3G priced at $249 and $299. This is a premium on CDMA prepaid phones in the order of $100 to $149. Does ACMA believe that offering handsets at a premium of $100 to $149 to CDMA prices is providing the same or better service?
Mr Tanner —Once again, this is not an issue ACMA has turned its mind to.
Senator CONROY —Minister?
Senator Coonan —I do not think that is something on which I should express an opinion. I think what we need to do is to look at it critically. It has only been available this week. I think 24 May was the—
Senator CONROY —They are charging a premium for handsets, though.
Senator Coonan —Yes. It is a commercial service.
Senator CONROY —People are being told that in January it is going to be turned off; they have got to buy it.
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator Coonan —I have already dealt with that. It is a fair point that you have raised. I have dealt with how we are going to deal with that, but Telstra—
Senator CONROY —Even if it was accurate, though, let us say the audit worked fine and they were going to switch off in January, people are being told they have to buy these phones; otherwise it is going to be switched off. And this is for the sake of saying Telstra is correct in its claims about coverage. People are now being charged a premium to get the prepaid phone.
Senator Coonan —It is a commercial service.
Senator CONROY —And the government is not prepared to commit to help people in the transition to the new technology? You are flicking the switch, and now people are going to have pay more.
Senator Coonan —I would just remind you of when you flicked the switch. There was not even a phone when Labor turned off the analog signal. This is going all right. We are keeping a close eye on it, and we need to see the offerings that Telstra makes. It is basically a commercial service, and I am not going to pre-empt what the government may or may not do as the matter progresses. I do think you have raised a fair point about the audit, and I have said how I am dealing with that.
Senator CONROY —The commitment to provide the same coverage is only a commitment for voice, is it not? ACMA is only testing voice, is it not?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —It is not testing broadband coverage or—
Mr Tanner —No, the audit is not looking at broadband coverage.
Senator CONROY —It is entirely a voice—
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —You are not testing to see whether or not people can get 14 meg broadband download?
Mr Tanner —We are not looking at broadband coverage.
Senator CONROY —At all?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator CONROY —Your remit is purely to ensure that voice equivalence is delivered between CDMA and 3G?
Mr Tanner —That is what our audit will assist the government with determining.
Senator CONROY —Minister, are you concerned that the capacity to deliver broadband over 3G is not being tested?
Senator Coonan —Is it under question? That is the point. What the government said was that we wish to ensure that there is equivalent coverage or better—
Senator CONROY —Of voice?
Senator Coonan —yes—between CDMA and 3G.
Senator CONROY —The government is committing only to guarantee that voice coverage is equivalent?
Senator Coonan —What we are committing to is that the CDMA coverage for 3G will be equivalent to the CDMA or better.
Senator CONROY —Those are all the questions I have for the moment.
CHAIR —We did this in 20-minute blocks yesterday.
Senator CONROY —I have probably had my 30. Perhaps Senator Nash would like to—
CHAIR —What about you though, Senator Wortley?
Senator CONROY —She is probably moving on to another topic.
Senator WORTLEY —It is still with ACMA but on another topic.
CHAIR —Senator Nash?
Senator NASH —You are talking about using a truck arrangement to do the testing at sites, with obviously very specialised equipment. At the same time, are you carrying with you ordinary, normal handsets?
Mr Tanner —What we are actually using is a reference receiver. We have a reference handset, and we have a reference receiver on the exterior of the vehicle. The point really is that the device needs to perform the same for CDMA and 3G. Handsets differ in their performance, so if we—
Senator NASH —But we are going to have different handsets.
Mr Tanner —That is true, and that is going to be a variable in the performance of individuals’ coverage. But, if we are to test coverage and Telstra’s maps, we need to have a reference receiver that is the same for the two or we are not comparing like with like.
Senator NASH —I understand the testing has to match, but we are trying to figure out—
Mr Tanner —You have—
Senator NASH —Hang on. We are trying to figure out if Mr and Mrs Smith who have got a phone on CDMA at the moment and then swap over will have the same reception. Would it not be sensible just to have an ordinary handset with you as well so you can check both?
Mr Tanner —You have put your finger on a factor that is going to affect the individual experience of coverage of both CDMA and 3G—that is, different handsets do differ somewhat in their performance. Our audit can only shed some light on the issue of same coverage. What we can do is look at and compare like with like: handsets that perform exactly the same way. We can tell the government whether or not the maps are accurate and whether or not coverage is the same or better in our sample. But we are not purporting to draw conclusions about the different performance of different handsets. Just at the moment you are probably not comparing like with like, in that there is only at this stage still quite a small range of handsets available for 3G. You are quite right that that is a variable, but that is outside the scope of the audit that we are currently doing. I should say as well that the audit is unlikely to be the only factor the government examines in drawing conclusions about whether the same or better coverage has been reached, so there is scope inside the working group process to consider these other issues. The working group has taken a lot of interest in handset performance and availability over time. But that is outside the scope of this audit. I guess where you are leading is that we could take a sample of 15 different handsets and be continually trying them, and then we can do 15 different handsets the other way. That is not something that we have purported to do. That is outside the scope of what we are doing.
Senator NASH —Is there anywhere you have tested where you have found service where it may not have been on a Telstra map?
Mr Tanner —I have two comments. Firstly, we have reported confidentially to the government, and really it is with the government as to what they do with the results. But if what you are saying is: is there fortuitous coverage—
Senator NASH —That is exactly what I am saying.
Mr Tanner —Yes, there is fortuitous coverage, and I guess that would be—
Senator NASH —Is that fortuitous coverage being logged?
Mr Tanner —As I say, we are measuring two things. One is the accuracy of the maps. The other is what the coverage actually is on our sample.
Senator NASH —I will try again. Is where the fortuitous coverage is actually being logged?
Mr Tanner —You can draw conclusions about fortuitous coverage, or some conclusions, from those measures, yes.
Senator NASH —Are you coming back and writing down where you have found coverage where it is not on a Telstra map?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator NASH —Thank you.
CHAIR —It is like extracting teeth, but there we are. Senator Macdonald?
Senator IAN MACDONALD —The audit is particularly related to the change of coverage, is it?
Mr Tanner —The audit is intended to shed light on the claim that coverage of the 3G will be the same or better than CDMA. It enables us to draw conclusions about the accuracy, the veracity, of Telstra’s maps about what it warrants its coverage is. It also allows us to draw some conclusions about actual coverage of the two networks and to compare.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Has the audit been completed?
Mr Tanner —The first half of the audit has been completed. We have audited a large sample of the CDMA cells.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Are the results public?
Mr Tanner —No.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —What is the second half of the audit?
Mr Tanner —That will be when we measure the performance of the equivalent 3G cells.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Sorry, you—
Mr Tanner —We will measure the performance of the 3G cells, the particular ones that are going to replace the CDMA cells that we have already—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —So the first half is just—
Mr Tanner —We are going to follow the same route, if you like. We are going to look at the same cells.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —The first half is just seeing where the CDMA was?
Mr Tanner —That is right.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay.
Mr Tanner —It is a bit more than that. It is measuring the accuracy of the maps that Telstra warrants for the coverage of CDMA and measuring the actual coverage of the CDMA.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —My own experience of CDMA is that it is not working too badly, but that is not terribly scientific. Perhaps not directly on that topic but on a related topic: are you still doing work on the government’s commitment to have full mobile phone coverage all around the major highways of Australia?
Mr Shaw —I think you are referring to a number of contracts that have been put in place through various government programs in the past—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —No, I am not—
Mr Shaw —The providers of services under those contracts do report to ACMA on an ongoing basis as required under those contracts.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I recall the minister giving instructions years ago, and at the last estimates and the previous estimates, about a commitment the government made I think in 2001 to have mobile phone coverage on all major highways of Australia.
Mr Shaw —I am not aware if there is a commitment to that specificity. I am aware of some contracts that were let under government programs that improved mobile phone coverage on a number of highways across Australia.
Mr Chapman —We have responsibility for the contract management of four contracts in this context, and we would be happy to—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —‘We’ being?
Mr Chapman —The ACMA. That is the beginning and end of our remit in the context of your question. We would be happy to update you on the status of those four contracts, if that is what you would like. As for coverage beyond those four contracts, which is extensively across the highways of Australia—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is it not a fact that Vodafone was given the contract to provide service on the highways?
Ms O’Loughlin —There are four finalised contracts, some revolving around Telstra and Vodafone, about delivering mobile phone coverage on highways. And ACMA has responsibility for—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I heard you say ‘Vodafone’ and—
Ms O’Loughlin —Vodafone and Telstra—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Telstra are what?
Ms O’Loughlin —They have responsibility under those contracts for delivering service along mobile phones on highways. Those contracts have now been completed.
Senator NASH —Is it digital?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is this something that has happened since last estimates?
Ms O’Loughlin —No. I will just check my notes. These are contracts that have been in place for a quite considerable length of time. I am not quite sure whether they are the contracts you are referring to, or was there—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —You will fool me with the science very easily, and the detail. My concern—and I know the minister’s concern—is the government’s commitment, I think, before the 2001 election to have—
Ms Scott —Maybe the department can help out here. In the 1998 election campaign the government made a commitment that $25 million would be used to provide 100 per cent continuous mobile coverage on key major national highways. Following the completion of the Mobile Phones on Highways rollout there has been continuation of work going on to ensure that there is coverage on that. There are a small number of gaps, but those gaps are being addressed. After ACMA finishes, we would be happy to answer questions about the Vodafone arrangements and so on, and continuous phone coverage along the 10,000 kilometres of national highways. We could change the personnel at the table, if you wished. We would be happy to take those questions when—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you. That is very, very helpful, because it just occurred to me that, while ACMA were doing this other testing work, it might have been appropriate to add a supplement to their contract or to their instructions just to clarify once and for all the competing claims that are made about mobile phone coverage on the highways. In terms of the competing claims, you are saying it is done. I am telling you that it is not done. Anyhow, perhaps that is an issue for later. It is not something that ACMA has had any brief to become involved in, I take it.
CHAIR —There is the North West Coastal Highway in Western Australia, the Great Northern Highway from Perth to Port Hedland, Port Hedland I believe and then to Broome, and Broome to Darwin.
Senator WEBBER —Yes.
CHAIR —That is quite a large ‘small omission’.
Senator WEBBER —Absolutely. Yes. This is an issue that will be pursued so perhaps the officials who—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —We will get on to that.
Senator WEBBER —have responsibility for this can take it on notice, so when we get there—
Ms Scott —I am sure they will be brushing up as we go.
Senator WEBBER —There will be at least two of us who have some concerns.
Ms Scott —Thank you, Senator.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —It has been something I have raised in the estimates committee in the last one and a half years. Thank you for that.
Perhaps this has been asked but I am from Queensland obviously and have a bias of interest to that state. CDMA was working very well in parts of north-west Queensland; Karumba/ Burketown is an area that I am familiar with. Have the results of your audit shown on a map where there is decent CDMA coverage?
Mr Tanner —They will have for the areas that we have sampled, but obviously not for the entire country. As I say, we have taken the approach of doing the representative samples so that we can draw conclusions about the accuracy of the map and coverage Australia-wide.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Okay. I heard you answering Senator Nash about that before. It is going to be difficult to be representative of Burketown and Karumba, which are way up in the Gulf of Carpentaria country and miles from anywhere.
Mr Tanner —They are up near the gulf, are they not? Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —To be representative there you would really have to be physically there, I would have thought.
Mr Tanner —It depends on your use of the word ‘representative’. I should make quite clear that when I am saying ‘representative’ I am talking about representative of the types of terrain and population density and usage patterns that you are likely to find in other parts of the country. So I am not using that in a political sense. Certainly we have not gone to every electorate in the country or to every state.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —No, I appreciate that but I would have thought that there were some parts of Australia that cannot be represented anywhere else, and I would suggest up in the Channel Country of the gulf and miles from anywhere—
Mr Tanner —But that would really depend on whether there were any geographical or population density characteristics that are so unique that we could not model that from other sites. My advice is that our sample is pretty representative.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —But this would depend on climatic conditions, cyclones, sunspots.
Mr Tanner —Some types of radio frequency propagation are more affected by those things than others. I am advised that, for the purposes of these transmissions, our sample is pretty representative. But certainly you will find when you are talking about different radio frequency applications that things like rainfall may be a variable. That is often the case with some of the satellite bands. As I say, I am relying here on engineering advice. I am not speaking personally as an expert. I am told that we have a representative sample in terms of the factors that really do significantly affect the performance of the cells.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I appreciate the audit has not been released publicly. Are you familiar with the results? Do you know if the north-west of Queensland has been sampled, or is that beyond the detail you have?
Mr Tanner —I am not privy to the exact route. I do not wish to disclose it either.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is it the government’s intention to ultimately release details of this audit after it has been considered by government? Do you know, Senator Coonan?
Senator Coonan —I do not have it yet so I would not commit to it now, before I have seen it. But I would say in general terms it would normally be my intention to make it public. I think it is important, and I think it will be an important reference point. But I just want to reserve my position to see it first.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I appreciate that.
Senator WEBBER —I am sorry to interrupt you, Senator Macdonald. Just going back to his questions about north-west Queensland, I presume it would have to be part of the sample if you are saying it is representative of all the different terrain and issues in Australia, because it is as close as you are going to get to Western Australia as anywhere else. So I presume it would have to be in there. If not, you have a third of the country that is not being represented.
Mr Tanner —I actually do not agree with that contention. I may need to take this on notice to provide a little bit more information about what I mean by ‘representative’. What I would like to be able to do is identify to the senators what we think the significant variables are in terms of terrain type and population density that affect the cell performance of this type of application. I think if you can give me a bit of room to get some advice from my engineers on that, that might help inform. It does not necessarily follow that the Gulf Country is a unique area or that the gulf country has the same propagation characteristics as remote Western Australia but nowhere else. I do not accept that premise.
Senator WEBBER —The Gulf Country has a lot of the same issues as the Kimberley, for example. So I would presume—
Mr Tanner —It does have a lot of the same issues but they may not be issues that are relevant to the coverage of cells of Next Gen CDMA. That is the point I am making.
Senator WEBBER —I come from a state where CDMA does not have complete coverage anyway, so excuse me if I am a little anxious and then I discover my entire state is not part of the sampling. I register a little concern, and this is no reflection on the minister. She is doing what she can to ensure that there is coverage. I am just a bit anxious about the process.
Mr Tanner —I do understand your anxiety and I am very keen that senators understand what we mean when we say ‘a representative sample’ so that you have some sense of our bona fides and you can draw your own conclusions.
CHAIR —To what extent is the coverage affected by climatic changes, atmospheric temperatures?
Mr Tanner —I do not think temperature is a major variable. I think it is type of terrain and vegetation, though that may to some extent be a variable. But if you will allow me to take that on notice, that is the kind of detail on which I would like to be able to put you in contact with our engineering advice directly rather than hear it through a law graduate.
CHAIR —If it is a factor you would obviously need to test these devices everywhere from Tasmania to the Snowy Mountains to the Kimberley.
Mr Tanner —Exactly.
CHAIR —To coastal Queensland and inland Australia.
Mr Tanner —Which ones you would have to sample would critically depend on the most relevant factors.
CHAIR —You do not appear to have done that.
Mr Tanner —If very high rainfall was a relevant factor, you would have to go to the monsoon country but I have not heard that it is in this case. It would be for some other radio frequency propagation parts of the band, but I understand that is not the case for this one. But if you will allow me to take that question away, I would like to come back to the Senate with a bit more information on the criteria for ‘representative’.
CHAIR —Temperature and client I would be interested in.
Mr Tanner —Yes. I understand the question.
CHAIR —Thank you. Where are we going to? Senator Wortley? Senator Nash, are you finished?
Senator NASH —On the audit I think so. Yes, thanks.
Senator WORTLEY —I am moving on to a new subject area which is the Do Not Call Register.
CHAIR —Before we move to that are there any other questions? No?
Senator WEBBER —Not on that audit.
CHAIR —I think Senator Fielding wanted to be here for that, as well. He is coming back about 10 o’clock, I think.
Senator WORTLEY —I am sure I will take it through to 10 o’clock and well beyond.
CHAIR —Please proceed, Senator Wortley?
Senator WORTLEY —How much has ACMA spent in establishing the Do Not Call Register for the 3 May launch?
Ms O’Loughlin —I do not have the expenditure to date with me at the moment but I can take that on notice. The original budget for the Do Not Call Register was $33.1 million over four years. That covered expenditure by ACMA and by DCITA in the establishment of the register and the ongoing management and administration of the register. In taking the project forward since last year, we have made some savings on that amount and we have in the budget provided up to $4.3 million of savings in this financial year. That is as a result of lower than expected costs on the establishment of the register by May this year.
Senator WORTLEY —It would not be too difficult to make a phone call and get the figures that have been spent to date?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, we could probably do that in the break.
Senator WORTLEY —Thank you. Before the launch of the Do Not Call Register the minister said, and I will just read from a media release of 1 February this year:
Based on overseas experience, we expect there will be a high level of demand for the Register. As many as one million numbers could be registered in the first week alone. It is therefore imperative that a robust Register is developed.
So it would be fair to say that you knew there was going to be high demand and that was going to be an issue and a system that could cope was a high priority?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —Service Stream Solutions was the successful tenderer on the basis, and I quote again from the minister’s media release of 1 February, that it ‘has the resources, technical skills and experience to operate the register and its bid was assessed as being good value for money’.
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —Was the contract for $12.1 million over four years with an additional three-year option?
Ms O’Loughlin —From memory, no. We wanted to keep some flexibility at the end of that contract, but I would have to check the detail on that.
Senator WORTLEY —And you could get back after the break?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, we could.
Senator WORTLEY —What were the technical specifications of the contract?
Ms O’Loughlin —There are quite extensive technical specifications of the contract. Was there a particular issue that you were looking at? There was a broad range of technical specifications. It was a mixture of both what were the expectations of the IT build but also what were the expectations of other services to be provided by Service Stream such as the telephone registration system. So there is a broad range of technical specifications.
Senator WORTLEY —How many registrations was the system intended to handle?
Ms O’Loughlin —The system is intended to handle up to 20 million.
Senator WORTLEY —How many registrations had the Do Not Call Register received when it first crashed on 3 May?
Ms O’Loughlin —I think it is fair to say that the system experienced quite a lot of slowdown during that first day, and it was a bit lumpy. I think it was up to about 170,000 or 180,000 when it did slow down. It was an issue with some of the security that we had added into the system which was causing the slowdown on day one. It was resolved by the end of that day and the system is now working extremely well and has more than 800,000 registrations.
Senator WORTLEY —How many people were unable to register due to shortcomings of the system on the day?
Ms O’Loughlin —We are not aware that people were unable to. They may have been unable to for a short period of time and we did put some notification out to advise people that things were going slow and to try and get that message out so that people understood where we were at. As I said, there was quite extensive work to resolve the slowdown issues by the end of the day, and, as I said, we are not aware of people having difficulties—they may have had difficulties on that day—and that they were not able to register eventually.
Senator WORTLEY —So there were difficulties on the first day it was launched?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, there were, Senator.
Senator WORTLEY —Was the system ready to be launched on 3 May?
Ms O’Loughlin —We were confident that it was ready. We had done quite a lot of load testing prior to the register being launched on that day. I think the difficulty arose where, as I mentioned, we had added in an additional security patch to the register because of some concerns raised by the industry and that was not able to be sufficiently tested during the load testing, which is normally an automated load test. What we added in there was a piece of technology called Capture which means that—sorry, I am getting into too much technical detail—computer-generated registration is not possible, so it is not possible for somebody to try and gain the register by sending hundreds of registrations just by a computer. It requires human action to actually get on the register. That slowed things down on the first day.
Senator WORTLEY —How much of the $33 million budget was spent on testing the system prior to the 3 May launch?
Ms O’Loughlin —That is a level of detail I do not have with me. We could find that for you.
Senator WORTLEY —Once again during the break?
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not sure I can do it in the break but I can certainly take it on notice.
Senator WORTLEY —How much was spent testing the system. You are not aware what testing was involved at this stage?
Ms O’Loughlin —I certainly know that there was quite significant load testing. I could certainly take the details on notice.
Senator WORTLEY —Do you know what the results of the testing were?
Ms O’Loughlin —The load testing was satisfactory, which was why we went to launch.
Senator WORTLEY —Do you think the launch should have been delayed until the system had been tested, given that on 3 May there were the problems that evolved?
Senator Coonan —She cannot express an opinion.
Senator WEBBER —Can I just go back to the testing. How long was spent on it? You say it was satisfactory. Can you give us a bit more detail? What does ‘satisfactory’ mean?
Ms O’Loughlin —I would have to take the details on notice. I do not have those with me at the moment. But we were satisfied with the load testing.
Senator WEBBER —Could we have a bit more detail on notice of what exactly that meant and how much time was spent?
Ms O’Loughlin —Certainly—and there was considerable time spent on it.
Senator WORTLEY —Given that the system did crash on the first morning, is ACMA satisfied with the Service Stream Solutions delivery?
Ms O’Loughlin —As I mentioned, there was some slowness on the first day. We now have a register which has more than 800,000 telephones registered on it. We are very satisfied with the performance to date.
Senator WORTLEY —Was there any enforcement action able to be taken under the contract regarding the system’s failure?
Ms O’Loughlin —The system was very well corrected by the end of that day.
Senator WORTLEY —Does ACMA have confidence that Service Stream Solutions will effectively manage the register if it cannot successfully manage the registration of individuals on the register?
Ms O’Loughlin —I think Service Stream is managing satisfactorily registrations of individuals on the register. As I mentioned, there was some slowdown on the first day. That was resolved and the register has been operating very effectively since that time.
Senator WORTLEY —How long after you became aware of the problems on the first day was the minister advised?
Ms O’Loughlin —I cannot remember offhand but I think it was reasonably soon after. These problems emerged over the day. It was probably by mid-afternoon that we were very well aware that there was a slowdown in the system.
Senator WORTLEY —So when you say ‘fairly soon’, how soon—a matter of minutes, hours?
Ms O’Loughlin —I cannot remember off the top of my head.
Senator WORTLEY —Does ACMA believe visually impaired Australians are entitled to access to the Do Not Call Register?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —Why did the register not comply with the access requirements contained in the Commonwealth’s Disability Discrimination Act in that it required the register to enter a series of letters and numbers displayed on the registration page?
Ms O’Loughlin —That is an issue that was brought to our attention on the day of the launch. I think it is fair to say that that was an oversight by ACMA in terms of looking at the capacity of the register on day one to handle registrations by visually-impaired people. What we were doing with the rollout of the register was that we had always intended that there would be a number of ways in which people can register. There are phone registrations, which are available now across Australia. There are applications for registration available in writing, where forms are available from people’s post offices, and we also opened up the web registrations earlier than expected. The scheme itself does not come into effect until the end of this month.
Senator WORTLEY —So what action has been taken to rectify this?
Ms O’Loughlin —It was rectified within the first week of the register being up and running.
Senator WORTLEY —What action was taken?
Ms O’Loughlin —There were two actions taken. Firstly, within four days after the register was opened, we put in place an interim solution so that visually-impaired people could send an email to the register operator and receive a phone call directly back to them to take their registration. Within the week we also had an audio security check put on to the system which allowed visually-impaired people to register directly.
Senator WORTLEY —Was compliance with laws such as these a condition of Service Solutions’s contract?
Ms O’Loughlin —There is a broad range of compliance measures in the contract.
Senator WORTLEY —Was this one of them?
Ms O’Loughlin —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator WORTLEY —Yes. You can take that on notice.
Senator WEBBER —Yes. It is an important piece of Commonwealth Government legislation.
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —Can all states now register by phone or internet?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, they can.
Senator WORTLEY —Victoria and Tasmania can now, too?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —When did that come into effect?
Ms O’Loughlin —On the 22nd.
Senator WORTLEY —How many telemarketers have paid the washing fee to ACMA to access the register?
Ms O’Loughlin —The washing service does not become available until 25 May so there are no payments due at this stage.
Senator WORTLEY —Will they pay after?
Ms O’Loughlin —They will pay after.
Senator WORTLEY —Do you know how many are going to be paying that fee? Have you any idea of that?
Ms O’Loughlin —No.
Senator WORTLEY —They do not have to register until the 25th?
Ms O’Loughlin —No. We certainly did quite a lot of modelling in the development of the access fees determination that we were responsible for. That is how many telemarketers would access the register at various fee rates.
Senator WEBBER —Given some of the other issues that we have had with the start of the register, are we absolutely confident that if they do all register in a hurry and they want their list washed in a hurry the system will cope with that?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes. We have been working very hard with the industry over the last few weeks in trialling the washing service and making sure that it fits their purpose. We are confident of that.
Senator WORTLEY —So the system can cope with that?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator WEBBER —How much is the fee?
Ms O’Loughlin —There is a wide variety of fees. It really depends on how many numbers the telemarketer is going to wash through the service. There is an exemption for up to 500 numbers where that is free but there is a wide range of levels of fees.
Senator WEBBER —Is there a schedule that you can table?
Ms O’Loughlin —Certainly.
Senator WORTLEY —Part of the strategy for the rollout was to develop a consumer and industry education program. What has been done in this regard?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have been developing and implementing an information and awareness program for both consumers and industry, which really started to roll out probably October/November last year, but certainly from the beginning of this year we have been making material available to both consumers and to industry about the rollout of the register. Leading up to and following the launch of the register, we have also undertaken newspaper advertisements, getting material to all Australia Post post offices and various material direct to industry to keep them informed of where the register is at and what their responsibilities are.
Senator WORTLEY —How much has been spent on the education program to date?
Ms O’Loughlin —Again, I do not have the exact figures to date but the last time I looked it was just over $900,000.
Senator WEBBER —On the education campaign, is there more to it than just paid advertising?
Ms O’Loughlin —Certainly. We do an electronic newsletter out to industry. We do fact sheets. You would have seen that there has already been quite a large amount of media around the register itself, which has not been paid. We have mainly focused on print media.
Senator WORTLEY —Is it true that federal Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis’s phone number was given out by a promotional material on the Do Not Call hotline?
Mr Chapman —I am not aware of that.
Ms O’Loughlin —I am aware and it was not on promotional material. It was an incorrect number given out by somebody. I would have to check the details. We were aware of it but it was where the number was inadvertently given out publicly with a misquote of the telephone number.
Senator WORTLEY —It was reported as such in the media. Do you know how this occurred? Have you looked into that?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have looked into it. I just do not have the details with me but I can certainly find that in the break, because we did look into it.
Senator WORTLEY —Thank you. How did the department find out about this mistake?
Mr Chapman —The department or the ACMA?
Senator WORTLEY —ACMA.
Ms O’Loughlin —I think they contacted us.
Senator WORTLEY —How soon was the minister notified about this?
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not aware of the time or date of that.
Senator WORTLEY —Minister?
Senator Coonan —I do not have it in my head, and, I am sorry, I do not have that.
Ms O’Loughlin —As I said, it was given out as a miscommunication. We tried to make sure that we got on to it quickly to resolve it.
Senator WORTLEY —What was done to rectify it?
Mr Chapman —We put our own number out.
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes. We made sure that the number that was the right number was provided to the source where the miscommunication came from.
Senator WORTLEY —How many complaints have been received since the launch on 3 May regarding the Do Not Call Register?
Ms O’Loughlin —Our obligation to look at complaints commences with the commencement of the full scheme, which is 31 May. At this stage we are not taking complaints, which are complaints under the Do Not Call Register Act, if I can put it that way. We had quite a large range of phone calls in the first few weeks of the register. Those were dealt with fairly effectively. They really were more about understanding where people could register and how they would register. They were not really complaints. They were more inquiries for information.
Senator WORTLEY —How many inquiries for information did you receive?
Ms O’Loughlin —I do not have that detail with me.
Senator WORTLEY —Has that been recorded? Would you have a record of that?
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not sure that I would but I can certainly check for you.
Senator WEBBER —I would like to go back to the public education campaign. You were saying that most of the emphasis has been in print media but most of the print media has not been that favourable. There was a lot of commentary that was not necessarily the most favourable commentary out there, so are you saying that not all of your effort is in paid advertising? I am grappling to find where the rest of the public education campaign—
Ms O’Loughlin —Our efforts in paid advertising are around print media.
Senator WEBBER —Is that where the main public education money is going?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, and also online brochures and collateral material. As I mentioned, we have brochures in all post offices and also that takes into account industry education and awareness, as well, around industry information and industry briefings, which we have held over the last month and a half.
Senator WORTLEY —Just going back to the registering of complaints or inquiries regarding access to the Do Not Call Register since 3 May, are you able to provide the nature of what those concerns were, as well, when you provide the figures?
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not sure that I can. I can have a look for you but I am not sure that I would be able to.
Senator WORTLEY —Would that have been part of the process in logging those concerns?
Ms O’Loughlin —As I mentioned, most of the concerns that arose in the first couple of weeks were more people interested to know what was the telephone number and where they could log on. They were not really complaints of the nature of, say, ACMA investigating. I can certainly give you a general sense of the level of interest, the inquiries and what type of inquiries.
Senator WORTLEY —One would have thought that, with the amount of money spent on the education program, how to log on or what number to ring would have been part of that program?
Ms O’Loughlin —Certainly. I think consumers were extremely keen to get on board so a lot of what we were doing in the first few days was providing information which was out there but people may not have accessed directly or seen in the newspapers and they just naturally gave us a call.
Senator WORTLEY —Thank you.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I understand I missed just hearing the number of registrations and so on that you have had to date, but I gather you have provided that information to the committee and that it has been quite strong. Can you give me any reasons that you think for the strength of the community support for the register?
Ms O’Loughlin —The updated figure at the moment is that it has just gone over 850,000 telephone numbers registered. As I just mentioned, there was very strong awareness in the community that the register was going to be established and there was very strong interest in the register leading up to the launch and following the launch. Can you repeat the end of your question?
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Primarily it was if you were getting any feedback on the reasons behind community support—what is generating such enormous registration levels so quickly?
Ms O’Loughlin —The background leading up to the establishment of the register showed that there was very strong consumer concern about the level of telemarketing calls they were receiving, and the high take-up rates in the first few weeks demonstrates exactly that, that people do want to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Are you keeping any demographic profiles on the types of people registering, out of interest?
Ms O’Loughlin —We are not collecting demographic information but we do have an information-gathering tool on the site to ask people how many telemarketing calls they received in the couple of weeks before they actually registered so that we can get a sense from that of what people are receiving now but also so we can look at that in the future and see whether that changes.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —On a geographic basis, is there any sort of state breakdown for registrations at this stage?
Ms O’Loughlin —No. We would expect with landlines that one could probably estimate. On the landline, at least, you can break it down by geographic areas, but not by mobile.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —It might be interesting to have a look at that data at some stage. Shifting to the cost of the register and so on, what would have been the cost implications for industry in terms of establishing the register if the government had not stepped in and established this with capital funding; indeed, would industry have met those costs?
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not in a position to speculate on what industry might or might not have done. But the budget provided by the government was $33.1 million and, obviously, if left to industry it would have been a significant impost, I expect.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —But industry has been cooperating strongly with the register since the early negotiations?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have worked very hard with the industry over the last 12 months. We have been very pleased with their openness with ACMA. They have been very forthright with us about any concerns that they have and we hope that the process that we have gone through has given them some confidence in the system and has improved the system as it has gone along.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —In terms of funding into the future, are there transition arrangements or plans for industry to play a greater role in the longer term funding of the program?
Ms O’Loughlin —The government’s original announcement included the fact that the register would be fully cost recoverable after year 4, and the cost recovery arrangements that we have put in place build up over the next three years and anticipate full cost recovery in year 4.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —So it has obviously been part of the negotiations you have had with industry. And they have been supportive of that phased-in implementation period?
Ms O’Loughlin —They were supportive of the approach that we took with regard to the cost recovery of phasing that in over a period of time to allow them to adjust.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Thank you.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Just in relation to Queensland, when did the system start there? Was it the same date as others?
Ms O’Loughlin —The web registration would have been open on the same day. The phone registrations opened up last Sunday.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —What is the response to date? Do you have statistics for that?
Ms O’Loughlin —I do not have a breakdown on that, but I may be able to find on notice the telephone registrations from Queensland for you. I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Do you have a feel for the average?
Ms O’Loughlin —I do not have the detail with me.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —All right. If you could do those things for me on notice?
Ms O’Loughlin —Certainly.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Has anyone else got questions on this area?
CHAIR —I do not think that we do.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not like to go backwards too far, but while ACMA is still here I would like to put a question on notice. I would be very interested to hear where you went that was north of the Tropic of Capricorn, right across Australia, because it does seem from some of the evidence that you have given that this may have been an audit, as many things are in Australia, confined to the south-east of Australia—which many south-east Australians think is Australia, but there are many of us in the north who produce a lot for the country. The north also has quite different climatic conditions that may interfere with some technical areas. So I would be interested if you could tell us on notice if there was any assessment done north of the Tropic of Capricorn, rather than just relying on your representative surveys elsewhere to extrapolate to the north?
Mr Tanner —I will take that together with the issues I have already taken on notice, which are to try and give a more detailed account of what we mean by ‘representative’ and what we think the variables that affect coverage are that have led to our choice of representative areas.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you.
CHAIR —Are there any further questions on ACMA?
Senator WEBBER —We have got lots, but I am conscious of time.
CHAIR —Senator Fielding wants to ask about filters. I am not sure that is under ACMA. I think that comes back to the department.
Senator FIELDING —It is following on from last night.
CHAIR —So, it is ACMA for you.
Senator WORTLEY —I would like to move on to the digital switch-over. ACMA stated at Senate estimates in February that it was ‘in the final stages of concluding planning for all digital transmitters and repeaters’. Is that planning now complete?
Mr Shaw —At the last estimates we indicated in answer to a question that we were in the process of responding to a request from the minister for information around digital switch-over and that that report would be available in the middle of the year. We are still on track to provide that report to the minister in the middle of the year.
Senator WORTLEY —The middle of the year being June?
Mr Shaw —Yes.
Senator WORTLEY —You are not in a position to give a date today?
Mr Shaw —No, I am afraid not.
Senator WORTLEY —I would like to ask some questions about the option of channel A and channel B. Is ACMA still on target to release the sale or auction document in May 2007?
Mr Chapman —The short answer is no. That has been a complex matter, and I have taken a decision to get it right rather than rush it. There is an outstanding matter or two that we need to resolve in terms of the allocation process. I hope to issue a revised timetable about that as soon as possible.
Senator WORTLEY —Are you able to provide us today with the details of the outstanding matters?
Mr Chapman —No, I am not. It is a matter that is in discussion between the department and us, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it because it is a matter that has some potential commercial sensitivity.
Senator WORTLEY —So, if you will not be meeting the May 2007 date, do you have another date that you can put forward?
Mr Chapman —I just indicated that I intend to release a revised timetable as soon as possible.
Senator WORTLEY —Would ‘as soon as possible’ be within a month, two months?
Mr Chapman —Until the ACMA has completed those discussions with the department, it is simply not possible to indicate to you when that timetable would be released. ‘As soon as possible’ indicates that we would like to issue it as soon as possible—because of the obvious role that it will play in the digital take-up in this country.
Senator WORTLEY —Could we expect to receive it in 2007?
Mr Chapman —Yes. I think that is a very fair assessment.
Senator WORTLEY —Can you confirm whether there has been any interest in the purchase of either channel A or channel B?
Mr Chapman —I am not prepared to speculate or comment on that because of the obvious commercial sensitivity that arises around that. There is significant work that has gone into the architecture of the process and it would be, I think, very imprudent of me to make comment on that question.
Senator WORTLEY —The question was whether or not there has been any interest. It was not who has shown the interest. I think that is a fair question to ask.
Mr Chapman —Yes, sorry. I was overreading your question and I apologise. There has been interest in it, and indeed I can indicate that we have been having increasingly active discussion with potential players concerning section 21 applications. That is, in my observation, a trend that is increasing over the last month. If you extrapolate that or interpret that, I see that as a reflection of increasing interest. We indicated consistently that we saw an approach under section 21 with respect to the definition of narrowcasting as an opportunity for potential players to get protection. It is, in effect, a minimum five years certification by the ACMA that that represents a narrowcasting opportunity, and we have seen that in the last month, yes.
Senator WORTLEY —Are there discussions taking place or any plans to make the channels more attractive to prospective purchasers?
Senator Coonan —I do not think it is appropriate for Mr Chapman to be asked to make a value judgement about it.
Senator WORTLEY —A question regarding whether there were plans to make the channels more attractive—
Senator Coonan —More attractive than what?
Senator WORTLEY —Than what the current proposition is.
Senator Coonan —Well, what is more attractive? What do you have in mind as more attractive?
Senator WORTLEY —To the prospective purchasers.
Senator Coonan —But we do not know who they are yet.
Senator WORTLEY —I understand there has been some interest shown.
Senator WEBBER —I guess, to be fair, there has been a lot of fanfare about these channels and we are just trying to get a sense of—
Senator Coonan —I understand that.
Senator WEBBER —what is going on, what is being offered and when it is going to happen.
Senator Coonan —That is perfectly fair. There has been no change from the current, announced policy in relation to A and B, apart from the time frame.
Senator WORTLEY —I understand there is no change. Are there any plans in place.
Senator Coonan —The policy is the policy.
Senator WORTLEY —So it remains exactly as it is and there are no plans in place—
Senator Coonan —I have just given you an answer.
Senator WORTLEY —There are no plans in place?
Senator Coonan —I am not going to tell you about plans. What I am saying is that the policy is the way it is announced.
Senator WORTLEY —Can you rule out that there are plans in place?
Senator Coonan —No, I am not going to rule anything in or out. What I have said is that we are here to answer questions about the policy and that is currently what it is. If you do not think it is attractive, you might like to ask questions about that. But you cannot ask, with great respect, whether it could be more attractive. I mean, what might be attractive to one purchaser might not be attractive to another, for instance. We do not know who they are, anyway.
Senator WORTLEY —ACMA has explained that as channel B was planned for mobile television services there is the potential for it to interfere with television transmission in both Sydney and the Gold Coast. Have these issues been addressed?
Mr Chapman —Mr Tanner, we addressed this at the last Senate estimates. Would you like to just touch on that?
Mr Tanner —It was addressed at the last Senate estimates as well. The point that was made was that, while there was potential for interference to television, ACMA would not tolerate such interference and that was the reason why ACMA in fact has moved publicly since that time to revise the scheduled planning guidelines which govern the installation of new television, including mobile TV transmitters in the broadcasting bands. The point of those changes is to add another brick in the wall that would prevent an operator in Sydney and Brisbane commencing a mobile service in a way that would interfere with television.
Senator WEBBER —On the concept of attractiveness, I appreciate what the minister has had to say, but there has been some commentary about the narrowcasting, about mobile TV and the very narrow use that means it is not that attractive, so I think it is only fair that we get a sense of, therefore, whether you are going to stick to the current thing or whether you are looking at that commentary. Are you looking at therefore taking those comments on board?
Mr Chapman —The ACMA role is a very narrow one. There are policy settings that the government has established and we are working to deliver on those. Beyond that it is a matter for government.
Senator WEBBER —So, for example, the definition of ‘narrowcasting’ that I gather there is some confusion about is a matter for government?
Mr Chapman —We have finalised our narrowcasting guidelines. We have recently issued those. We issued drafts. We took all the feedback on board and we have issued those as final guidelines.
Senator WEBBER —As far as you are concerned, industry is clear about what they are? There is no confusion?
Mr Chapman —No, I do not think I said that. I think I indicated to you that, consistent with our exhortations when we issued those guidelines, it is a new service opportunity and we have increasingly found over the last month in particular heightened dialogue with potential players about section 21 applications, which was what we have encouraged all along. I find that a very encouraging trend.
Senator CONROY —You indicated earlier that you are not on target to release the sale auction document this month. Why is that? I am sorry if I missed that answer. What is the hold-up?
Mr Chapman —I indicated that there was a matter we were in discussion with government about and as soon as we have resolved that we will be releasing a revised timetable as soon as possible.
Senator CONROY —What is it you have to discuss with the government? It is your job to release the sale auction document. You have been put in charge of it.
Mr Chapman —Yes, we are in charge of it. It is a very complex matter.
Senator CONROY —Is there an outstanding policy issue?
Mr Chapman —It is an outstanding policy matter, yes.
Senator CONROY —What is the outstanding policy matter?
Mr Chapman —I am not prepared to comment on what the outstanding policy matter is. We are in discussion with the government about that policy matter and it is not appropriate for me to comment on that whilst we are in that position. It is a matter for government to provide that policy direction and for us to issue the revised timetable off the back of it.
Senator CONROY —Minister, what is the outstanding policy matter?
Senator Coonan —I am getting some advice, and until I have a chance to get some advice I am not in a position to say.
Senator CONROY —You could identify the issue while you are waiting for the advice.
Senator Coonan —I can, but I choose not to. It is not announced policy and I have some matters under consideration.
Senator CONROY —When do you think you will be completing that consideration so that you can advise ACMA?
Senator Coonan —Very shortly.
Senator CONROY —How short is very shortly?
Senator Coonan —I am dependent on getting some advice from the department, so when I have received advice and have had a chance to consider it, I will be doing it. It will probably be reasonably soon after we finish estimates.
Senator CONROY —What a coincidence.
Senator Coonan —That is when I will start looking at it.
Senator CONROY —Once you have given ACMA that advice, will they be able to proceed to release the auction documents?
Senator Coonan —I do not know. I do not yet have the advice from the department that I am waiting on. Once I have had a chance to have a look at it I will be in a position to finalise the policy position.
Senator CONROY —When we last spoke at estimates, Mr Chapman, I think the time frame took us through into about October. Given the delay, is that now going to have to be extended for the actual auction process, do you think?
Mr Chapman —When we release the revised timetable, which we are intending to do as soon as possible, it will accommodate and address the timing over the complete scale of what we are doing.
Senator CONROY —I presume it cannot match. Given that now there is at least a month’s delay, you will have to push back the end process by a month.
Mr Chapman —This will sound a cute answer and it is not intended as such, but that does not necessarily follow, for reasons that may or may not become apparent when we release our revised timetable.
Senator CONROY —What was the proposed completion date for the auction?
Mr Chapman —Indicatively it was sort of August for channel A and about November for B. Mr Tanner, I am happy for you to correct me, but I think it was indicatively channel A in August and B in November, October, is that correct?
Mr Tanner —I will just check if I have any advance on that.
Mr Chapman —I am not far wrong with that.
Senator CONROY —You still believe that, despite this month’s delay—minimum—you can meet those target dates?
Mr Chapman —That is not what I said. I said that it is not inconceivable that we could, but that will be addressed in the revised timetable.
Senator CONROY —Which part of the process will you be shortening?
Mr Chapman —I am not prepared to comment on that.
Senator CONROY —I am not asking about any policy, conflict or discussion; I am asking about—
Mr Chapman —The response on the policy impacts the timetable and there may or may not be slippage in the timetable, depending on the government’s policy response.
Senator CONROY —Last time we were talking about it we talked about the fact that August, September, October, November is the most likely period for the election campaign. Would you be committed to running these auctions through the middle of the election campaign?
Mr Chapman —We did discuss that last time and we acknowledged that there was a caretaker consideration that may or may not play, depending on the revised timetable. We are aware of that and we will be seeking to address that when we release the revised timetable.
Senator CONROY —Do you think that election time is an optimal time to run an auction for some important government assets? Is that going to optimise the—
Mr Chapman —We would take all those matters into account at the time.
Senator CONROY —I am not trying to put words in your mouth so I am happy to be corrected, but I thought last time you indicated that you might have to postpone because of the election campaign—particularly B, given that that would actually be right through the middle of the campaign. Is that still your view?
Mr Tanner —I think we might have said that we would have regard to the implications of the caretaker period when that problem arose for any work that we were doing, including the allocation process. I think that was more the tenor, from recollection, of what was said.
Mr Cheah —I am one of the full-time members of ACMA. I think I was the one who made that comment.
Senator CONROY —I know who you are, Mr Cheah.
Mr Cheah —I think I said that we would take advice on the operation of the caretaker conventions, obviously, if we were conducting an auction during an election period.
Senator CONROY —It is possible for the process to have commenced before the election is called.
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —I do not think it matters about the caretaker provisions then. It is only when there is signing off. Your legal advice may be different to that.
Mr Cheah —If there were any issue about caretaker conventions, I am sure we will take advice about that.
Senator CONROY —During an election there is usually a bit of a pause in most businesses. There is a little lessening in business activity due to the uncertainty created by the lead-up to an election campaign and the actual campaign. The question I am asking you is: do you think you are going to get an optimal return conducting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —If a company had to borrow to buy in and they thought they were going to have to be paying a 22 per cent interest rate they might be very cautious about what they bid.
Senator Coonan —Do you think it might be a confidence matter, do you, Senator Macdonald?
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am sure it will be.
Senator Coonan —Senator Conroy, as you would expect, the government will be honourable about what might be an appropriate thing. Insofar as it is a matter for us, of course we will observe the convention. But let us just see what the revised timetable does.
Senator CONROY —I am not actually questioning the issue around the caretaker period; I am not suggesting for a moment that either you or ACMA would decide half way through an election campaign to start this. My concern is actually about maximising the outcome.
Senator Coonan —It is a point.
Senator CONROY —Few people would suggest that the best time to be trying to engage in something as important as this is during the middle of an election campaign.
Senator Coonan —Let us take that on board and let us see how we go with the revised timetable.
Senator CONROY —Has ACMA decided whether competition limits will apply to the sale of channel A and channel B? For example, could one bidder buy both channels, or is that a policy question?
Mr Chapman —They are all matters that will be addressed in the sales documentation when they are released.
Senator CONROY —Is that a policy question or is that an ACMA decision?
Mr Chapman —It will be an ACMA decision.
Mr Tanner —It is a ministerial decision, in fact.
Senator Coonan —The policy decision has already been taken.
Senator CONROY —Is it a policy decision or an ACMA decision?
Senator Coonan —The policy that is announced says that certain people cannot bid for certain of the licences, and the channel B platform is an open platform, so obviously—
Senator CONROY —But there could be competition issues—
Senator Coonan —Yes, that is certainly true.
Senator CONROY —that arise.
Senator Coonan —That is true.
Senator CONROY —One major current media company wanted to bid for both A and B.
Senator Coonan —Yes. And the ACCC obviously will have something to say about that.
Senator CONROY —Are you in consultations with the ACCC on these matters?
Mr Chapman —We are, yes.
Senator CONROY —Budget Paper No. 1 states that the Commonwealth will receive $8.8 billion from asset sales in 2006-07. Does this sum include proceeds from the sale of channel A and channel B, or are those proceeds in 2007-08?
Mr Chapman —I will ask Ms Carlos to address that.
Ms Carlos —No, it does not.
Senator CONROY —So 2006-07 does not include them?
Ms Carlos —No, the estimates of the revenue are not included in the budget processes for reasons of commercial sensitivity.
Senator CONROY —But you will be setting a reserve price; I am assuming that there will be a reserve price. You are not going to give it away for $5, are you?
Senator Coonan —That is something that will be addressed in the documents.
Mr Chapman —Yes, it will be addressed in the sales document.
Senator CONROY —Will there be a reserve price?
Mr Chapman —The structure and the price setting is part of the architecture of the allocation process and will be addressed in the sales process.
Mr Tanner —Perhaps I should clarify: yes, there is work already underway in identifying a reserve, and that would be set at an appropriate time during the allocation process.
Senator CONROY —I thought you had previously told me there would be a reserve price. I was wondering why you were running away from that.
Mr Tanner —Work is underway on that. A decision will be taken deeper into the allocation process—once that has commenced. But the work that would inform that decision is already underway.
Senator CONROY —Minister, you are very conscious that there is a lot of interest in this process? Are you keen to kick it off so that ACMA are able to actually issue the documentation and allow the market to start examining the—
Senator Coonan —I can remember scorn being heaped on this process that there would not be anybody interested and nobody would want to bid.
Senator CONROY —So far no one has put up their hand.
Senator Coonan —Indeed, unless my memory does not serve me well—and it usually serves me very well—there was great opposition from you to these, so I am glad to know that you now acknowledge that there is considerable interest in them.
Senator CONROY —I would have to say that I think your memory is failing as usual. I have not actually heard one single company put up its hand and say that they are interested yet—not one for A.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I thought you just said there was a lot of interest.
Senator CONROY —For B there is, but not for A.
Senator Coonan —You did not make any distinction in your question.
CHAIR —No, he did not. But people’s memories might be restored by some tea with sugar in it, so we will break for morning tea.
Proceedings suspended from 10.44 am to 11.07 am
Senator CONROY —In previous estimates you indicated that particularly for channel B there was a potential black-spot problem in Sydney and there was also a potential problem in the number of channels. People often say 30 channels are going to be available on channel B. I think last time you suggested it was perhaps the 20 in the middle that would be more useful. I just wanted to clarify where we are at with those technological issues. Are we still finding black spots in Sydney and how many channels are available? Also, Senator Wortley asked about the Gold Coast and possible black spots. Can you take me through the technical issues.
Mr Tanner —Just to recap, the channel B at present is not always as it was planned for fixed television. A number of the channels around the country are not ideal or perfect for mobile coverage. I guess that raises the issue of there being more black spots with those if used for mobile coverage than with channels that are more optimal.
Senator CONROY —So since we last spoke, you have moved on from identifying problems in Sydney?
Mr Tanner —No, things have not moved on. I am just recap for you. In fact things have not—
Senator CONROY —From your answer you have suggested there is a nationwide issue now.
Mr Tanner —No, the nationwide issue was that there were quite a number of the channels that would have these issues but that for a large number of them—I think it is 40 from memory—
Senator CONROY —If you could just hold on for one moment, Mr Tanner.
Mr Tanner —Approximately 40 of the channels across the country that comprise channel B can be replanned in a way that makes them more optimal for mobile usage.
Senator CONROY —Did you say 14?
Mr Tanner —40. We have built into our proposed procedure, which was canvassed in December last year, an offer we were going to make to replan those frequencies if they were required for mobile. So that was part of the answer. There were channels in a few areas, and one of them was Sydney, where there are going to be black-spot issues, as you put it, because they are not optimised for mobile coverage in all areas. There is not a simple solution to that. So that is the Sydney issue. The issue in the Gold Coast is that while the—
Senator CONROY —Just before you move to the Gold Coast, I want to explore Sydney for a moment. In terms of black spots, does that mean all 40 channels drop out?
Mr Tanner —No. This is where I think you have lost me a little bit. That is a separate issue. I think the number of TV services that are available is an issue about what you do with the data stream. Now there are several different configurations you can run the channel on. You can run it with 30 channels; you can run it with 15 channels. That is a different issue. It is not relevant to the issue of—
Senator CONROY —Okay, so we have got two different issues?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —I will deal with black spots. The mobile TV just cuts out completely?
Mr Tanner —The issue is that mobile television has a different network transmission architecture from fixed television. You would probably need more infill transmitters than you would with fixed television. The difficultly that the Sydney channel experiences is that it is quite hard to build additional infill transmitters other than those that are used by fixed television without causing interference to television services on nearby channels. So that, if you like, is your black-spot problem.
Senator CONROY —What is the technological solution?
Mr Tanner —This is a very complicated issue.
Senator CONROY —What is the footprint of the problem? Is it a 10 per cent of the land mass area in Sydney, one per cent or five per cent?
Mr Tanner —No, it is not a question that has got one answer, because it depends. The answer is: it depends. It depends on the configuration that you run the service with.
Senator CONROY —But no configuration has a zero problem?
Mr Tanner —There is no configuration or modulation you can run that just fixes the problem magically, no. The point is not that it is impossible to put in the infills; it is that there will be costs entailed in fixing the interference problems that prevent you from using that channel. Those costs may, at the discretion of a market participant, be prohibitive. That is the issue.
Senator CONROY —So the extra cost of actually making it a universal service within Sydney could be prohibitive?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —And that is what market players are saying to you?
Mr Tanner —There are differing views in the market, I think it would be fair to say. There are some market players that believe the problem is overstated and can be managed; there are others that think it is quite significant. Those market players possibly have more information than we do as well because we only do certain types of planning in the government. We do not design mobile telephone networks for a living, which is what a telco does.
Senator CONROY —Sure. That is Sydney. Can I just go back to the configuration question. There has been speculation in the media and you have mentioned the number 40. Most people have talked around 30 channels. What are you selling?
Mr Tanner —No, I think you are confusing two issues again. When I referred to 40, that was television channels around the country and digital channel plans, like channel 35 in Sydney or channel 49 UHF in Bateman’s Bay. There are 40 of those that we have said we can replan to optimise more for mobile television. That is a different issue from the number of—
Senator CONROY —How many channels will be available on the mobile TV?
Mr Tanner —That would depend on what standard is used and what modulation and what choices you make.
Senator CONROY —These are important decisions. Your tender documents were meant to be published right now.
Mr Tanner —They are decisions that we would leave to the market. We are not making an assumption about which mobile television standard would be used. When I said options of 15 and 30, I was actually talking about the well-known DVBH standard, which is the best understood standard, although it is not the only one.
Senator CONROY —So you are not going to specify the structure?
Mr Tanner —No. The point of licence B is that it is for the market to decide whether to use it for mobile and, if so, what standard, or whether to use it for fixed. That is the point about licence B.
Mr Chea —And in any event it would not preclude technological change in the future in any event where new technology comes along which often is able to provide a lot more with different kinds of compression technologies. The owner of the channel would be free to innovate.
Senator CONROY —Okay. Let us move up to the Gold Coast. You were going to say the problem on the Gold Coast is different to the problem in Sydney.
Mr Tanner —It is. The problem on the Gold Coast is that the channel proposed for channel B, while it is very good for mobile coverage in the Brisbane area, is also proposed for use in some adjacent areas such as the Gold Coast and there would be what you are calling black-spot issues in those adjacent areas.
Senator CONROY —So they are a similar style of problem to those in Sydney?
Mr Tanner —It is similar to the Sydney issue, but restricted to the areas adjacent to Brisbane rather than within Brisbane.
Senator CONROY —Would that be the Sunshine Coast as well as the Gold Coast, or just the Gold Coast?
Mr Tanner —From memory, I think so, but I would need to check that, if you do not mind.
Senator CONROY —So possibly both the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast?
Mr Tanner —I will give you the regions on notice, if that is all right, so I can provide a comprehensive answer.
Senator CONROY —I have been aware of the Sydney one for a while, I have been vaguely aware of the Gold Coast one and possibly the Sunshine Coast. Are there many others?
Mr Tanner —There are some other small ones, but the great majority in other parts of the country are in the 40 for which we say there is a planning solution.
Senator CONROY —So these are the three markets—
Mr Tanner —This information should all be in our December 2006 discussion papers, so I am not telling you anything which—
Senator CONROY —No, I am not suggesting that this is an earth-shattering outcome, I am just trying to clarify if there have been any solutions found to them.
Mr Tanner —The situation is unchanged since last estimates.
Senator CONROY —I am going to move on to a different issue just for a moment. I will come back to that. Thank you for that. What I want to talk about is that, pursuant to the Broadcasting Services Act, ACMA must make available to the public all documentation in relation to licensed area plan, or LAP, reviews. Can ACMA table all documentation related to the last LAP review for Perth?
Mr Tanner —That should be in the public domain. We certainly can.
Senator CONROY —Does ACMA intend to review the spectrum licences provided to the ABC?
Mr Tanner —With the transmitter licences that are used by the ABC in the Perth area, we have not proposed that in the current draft licence area plan, no. Certainly the ABC would not support any change either.
Senator CONROY —Is it correct that ACMA has specified that the ABC may transmit at strengths up to three times the international standard?
Mr Tanner —I do not believe so, but I might have to take that on notice. I am not sure where that is coming from.
Senator CONROY —Well, the suggestions are that there is a Perth transmitter that is transmitting three times the international standard.
Mr Tanner —Which international standard?
Senator CONROY —I can happily come back to you on that one.
Mr Tanner —I will take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —Do that, and we will come back to you shortly. Does ACMA gazette the expiry of all licences in accordance with the Radiocommunications Act?
Mr Tanner —I am sorry; which licences are we talking about? The expiry of spectrum licences?
Senator CONROY —Yes.
Mr Tanner —We are not talking anymore about the broadcasting services bands; we are discussing now—
Senator CONROY —I can give you some licence numbers if you like. I can identify a couple. I am happy for you to take this on notice. Can you tell me when the expiry of licence Nos 1198482 and 1198484—that is, ABC 6WF and ABC 6RN—were gazetted?
Mr Tanner —Certainly. Can I just take that on notice?
Senator CONROY —Are you familiar with the International Telecommunication Union?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —They write standards?
Mr Tanner —They are an international body with a role in international coordination of radio communications and telecommunications.
Senator CONROY —Does that mean they are involved in standards?
Mr Tanner —Well, ACMA is involved in several ITU processes. My staff and I are involved in ITU processes around radio communications.
Senator CONROY —So is that a yes?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —Do they help draft standards? You are involved in an intricate process, I presume?
Mr Cheah —I might help a little bit there. The ITU have a telecommunications division and a radio communications division. Yes, they have broad standards-making or designing processes. They tend to involve industry as well as government. ACMA staff do participate in some, but not all, of the standards-making bodies.
Senator CONROY —I understand you ratify some and are cosignatory to some of those standards.
Mr Cheah —That is correct.
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —Is anyone who is in the room aware of the issues around the Perth transmitter, Hamersley Towers? Does that ring a bell with anyone?
Mr Tanner —Yes, but there is certainly no ITU connection. Yes, I am responsible. My team is responsible for preparation of licence area plans.
Senator CONROY —The suggestion is that that tower is broadcasting at three times the international standard due to the strength of the signal.
Mr Tanner —I see. I just do not know what standard you mean. I should say we are currently investigating a complaint in connection with that tower.
Senator CONROY —And is the complaint in relation to—
Mr Tanner —It is to do with compliance with the technical planning guidelines under the Broadcasting Services Act.
Senator CONROY —And does that involve a discussion about the strength of the signal?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —From a group called RIGHT, Radio Interference Group Hamersley Towers?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator CONROY —So you are actually investigating this at the moment?
Mr Tanner —Yes. They have made a complaint and we are investigating it.
Senator WEBBER —Do you have a time line on when that investigation will be completed?
Mr Tanner —I do not have a time line, no, not at this stage.
Senator WEBBER —You would not like to hazard a guess on when you think that investigation will be completed?
Mr Tanner —It is a significant job of work.
Senator WEBBER —It is a significant issue. I have been involved in the area for a very long time. I think RIGHT’s concerns have been going on for at least five or six years.
Senator CONROY —Are you saying there is no standard about the strength of a broadcast signal?
Mr Tanner —I do not know what ITU standard you are referring to—that is what I am saying. I am saying we are investigating whether or not they are complying with a set of rules called the technical planning guidelines under the Broadcasting Services Act which govern a number of aspects of the power of signals.
Senator CONROY —So when you say ‘the power of the signal’ and I say ‘broadcast strength’, would that be two technically very different things? They sound the same to me.
Mr Tanner —We may very well be talking about similar things.
Senator CONROY —Good. You can take on notice those ones that I have mentioned and you can let us know how your investigation goes, and we will follow up at the next estimates to see what progress you have made in amongst all your many other wacky matters, Mr Tanner. In Senate estimates in February this year, Mr Tanner noted in response to questions by Senator Ronaldson that Central Victorian Gospel Radio is operating on a vacant frequency, I think 101.5 FM, in Bendigo under a temporary community broadcasting licence. Can you tell us what the government has done to extend the temporary community broadcasting licence?
Mr Tanner —Yes. I understand that that temporary licence has been extended for a further six months. It was to have expired in May; it has now been extended to I think December, from memory.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Just talking about the ITU: you will be attending the Asia-Pacific tele convention in Korea in July as a preparatory to the World Radio Conference in Geneva in November this year?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Have you as yet determined a policy on the C band, which I understand is likely to be addressed at both of those conferences?
Mr Tanner —No. We are still working up a draft Australian position, and I think that will be informed by the APT meeting you are talking about in July as well.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is that a government decision or is it an ACMA decision?
Mr Tanner —It is a government decision. The government would be advised by ACMA in taking that decision because of the technical content, but it is a government decision.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I wonder if I could just ask the minister for a yes or no. Minister, are you familiar with the discussions about C band at this time?
Senator Coonan —Not in that kind of detail, no.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I just want to know whether you are available to be lobbied, if you are not—and I do not know what I am lobbying for, mind you.
Senator Coonan —It is always a pleasure to see you, Senator MacDonald.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —And vice versa, minister. My understanding—which is again, as all my understanding of these things is, very, very limited and very, very base—is that the C band has some impact on the usage of satellite spectrums; is that right?
Mr Tanner —C band is used in Australia for satellite, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —And as I understand it there is a push by northern European countries, Japan and Korea to reallocate the C band for new generation mobile telephony, which would then come at the expense of satellite communications. Is that correct?
Mr Tanner —There is a motion under consideration that would see IMT-2000, the new generation mobile telephony and data, as one of the primary uses of C band, along with several other parts of the spectrum. It currently is not. That is what the motion is about.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —That would mean a lesser usage from existing users of that band?
Mr Tanner —It might and it might not. It would depend then on what actually happened. All the international regulations do is set the parameters within which national administrations are supposed to work. National administrations would then decide whether or not they were going to have IMT-2000 as a primary use of those bands in their own countries.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —It has been suggested to me that perhaps low-latitude countries, such as Australian, New Zealand, Indonesia and I believe even China, might be concerned about the impact on their satellite communications if there were more of this C band taken for mobile telephony usage.
Mr Tanner —There is some anxiety in the satellite community about the implications of identification of IMT-2000 for the C band.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Satellite communication is very important to Australia, is it not? I am assuming it is important to countries with vast distances between communities? No?
Mr Tanner —Of course.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Yes? Is satellite communication more important to Australia than, say, to Switzerland?
Mr Tanner —I could not say, but certainly it is very important.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —If you were to lessen the ability for satellite usage, what impact would that have on Australian communications, if any?
Mr Tanner —That is an extraordinarily hypothetical question. It is very difficult to know how to begin to address it, to be fair.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Is that not the sort of thing you would—
Mr Tanner —C band is not the only band that is available to satellite. It has certain characteristics. I understand the argument really relates to the utility of C band and the undesirability of making satellite make greater use of other bands.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I would assume that Australia’s position at these conferences would be dependent upon its economic, social and technical impact on communications in Australia?
Mr Tanner —Absolutely. Australia’s position will be primarily informed by the Australian national interests. That is certainly the way our legislation is drafted, anyway. But as I say, it is not in the end ACMA’s—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —So you would have to come to a conclusion of what the impact will be on Australian communications if there were to be a reduced ability to use the C band for satellite work?
Mr Tanner —Yes. That would be a relevant consideration to working out where Australia’s national interest lay on balance. I do not dispute that.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —This is relative and comes from someone who has very little idea about these things, but would it have a big impact or a little impact—pretty technical stuff—if there were less availability of the C band for satellite, or are you saying you do not know at the moment and that is what you are looking at?
Mr Chapman —At the end of the day there are a number of different considerations that we take into account before we provide our advice to the government. As with all these things, it is a cost-benefit analysis that takes into account a wide range of matters that deal with Australia’s public interest, and there are opportunity costs to each and every application. In framing our advice to the government, before the World Radio Conference, we will take those things into account. The points you make are valid—they are very valid—but there are other competing considerations and we are very alive to it. You mentioned a moment ago about lobbying. We are certainly alive to the issues probably for the same reasons. They will ultimately need to be balanced in the way that we have to deal every day with balancing competing interests and vested interests in the public interest. It comes down to an opportunity cost and the way in which you frame the public interest test.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —My interest is very parochial, and I repeat that I very unfairly accuse decision makers in this area of looking after the majority of Australians and not worrying as much perhaps as they should about those of us who live in more remote areas. As I say, that is very unfair and I am sure that is not correct, but history shows this. For instance, the switch-off of the analog telephone system back 10 or 12 years ago was a case in point. It had an enormous impact on the bush. I want to ensure that all of these issues are taken into account. Perhaps on notice if I could say to ACMA or someone: could you let me know what technical and economic evaluations have been done that might justify a change in the C band usage? You can take that on notice; I assume it is not readily available. Can I also inquire, perhaps on notice, what the process will be? July is not far away. My ability to—
Mr Tanner —July is preparatory to a November meeting of the World Radio Conference. That is the key time. In fact, July should assist in settling Australia’s position.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —If Australia is going to have any input to the November meeting, they are going to have to go to the July meeting with some sort of view on where the Asia-Pacific region should be heading in Geneva in November.
Mr Tanner —Of course.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —You obviously have a lot of work to do between now and July. I am wondering what the process might be in terms of what oversight parliament might have on the conclusions you come to.
Mr Tanner —I would have to take that on notice.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I will briefly go back to the A and B channels that I tried to understand at the Senate inquiry into the new legislation. To recapitulate in summary for me, the A band is for what purpose, and what is the state of it at the present time, if you can give the simple man’s response to that?
Mr Tanner —Channel A is for fixed digital television services, open narrowcasting or datacasting services—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —And non-commercial?
Mr Tanner —Open narrowcasting can be commercial but it cannot be a commercial television broadcasting service. It has to be a service whose—
Senator CONROY —What is the difference?
Mr Tanner —I might pass that over to Ms O’Loughlin’s half of the organisation, which has been working on the guidelines.
Mr Chapman —Could you repeat the question? I apologise.
Senator CONROY —Mr Tanner was just explaining to Senator Macdonald the definition and I was just asking for the absolute difference between the two items that Mr Tanner had described. I am as interested as Senator Macdonald is in this.
Mr Tanner —When I said open narrowcasting and datacasting would be on licence A but not commercial broadcasting, Senator Macdonald asked me whether that meant you could not have commercial. I said that open narrowcasting can be commercial in nature but it cannot be commercial television broadcasting. That led into a discussion of the difference.
Senator CONROY —What is the difference?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have put a lot of the discussion around these issues in our narrowcasting guidelines, which we have recently released. The difference between these is set out in the Broadcasting Services Act. There is a definition of a commercial broadcasting service and there is a definition of a narrowcasting service. A narrowcasting service must be limited in some way, and the act sets out the ways in which a narrowcasting service could be limited. It is up to ACMA to assess whether a service is a narrowcasting service. Perhaps if I can give you an example—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —You are giving an intelligent answer to an intelligent audience, which I am not. I prefaced my question by asking for the simple answer for simple people, bearing in mind that when you give simple answers you can later be held to account for oversimplifying it. But with the qualification that you will not be held to this, could you try to explain to me what you just said?
Ms O’Loughlin —It might be helpful to perhaps talk about narrowcasting in radio. There is a huge number of narrowcasting radio services provided across Australia that are popular but of limited appeal. It might be that in some areas racing radio is provided through narrowcasting services and in some areas different types of music programming.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Tourist radio?
Ms O’Loughlin —Tourist radio, yes. So it is those types of things which can be very popular but do not have the overarching characteristics of a true commercial broadcasting service.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —But they can be commercial?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Obviously, the—
Ms O’Loughlin —They can be a profitable enterprise.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —And that is what is on the A channel. Did someone say, or was it just Senator Conroy causing mischief, that there have been no bids for the A channel, or would we not know yet?
Mr Tanner —We would not know yet.
Senator CONROY —Can you name any company that has even said that it will contemplate bidding at this stage?
Senator Coonan —That is not appropriate—
Mr Tanner —I am sorry—
CHAIR —Do you wish to make some comment?
Senator Coonan —I do, please, if I may. In my view, that is not something that is fair to companies that have expressed an interest. There is a lot of advantage to remaining anonymous for the time being.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —But without being specific, when Senator Conroy says there has been no interest, you would say that he is wrong—
Senator Coonan —If I were to be specific, just to give you a bit of an idea, I think it would be quite clear who at least one of the—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I am certainly not trying to identify anyone, but—
Senator Coonan —I do not want to send the process off with the committee being satisfied it has a range of answers as to who might be interested and then there being ultimately commercial implications for—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —No, Senator Conroy is saying that nobody is interested. What I am simply saying is: is he wrong?
Senator Coonan —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is all I want.
Senator CONROY —Has any company said that it can find a business model under the current guidelines that is successful?
Senator Coonan —The same answer applies.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Can I just go on to the simple man’s explanation of the B channel and where that is at?
Mr Tanner —Yes. The B channel is able to be used for a wider range of applications, including mobile television, but it can also be used for fixed digital television as well. It could be used for the same uses as A but, in fact, it is also able to be used for other ones of which the one which has attracted most interest and discussion so far has been mobile television.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —As I recall, in our discussions when we looked at the legislation—and I am really just asking for a confirmation that my simple understanding is right or wrong—one owner will end up with the B channel but there will be conditions requiring that one owner to make parts of the B channel available to others, perhaps even competitors. Is that right or wrong?
Mr Tanner —There will be an access undertaking regime administered by the ACCC in relation to the B channel. That is not the same—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Will it be one owner?
Mr Tanner —Yes, it will be one owner.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —One entity will buy the channel?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —You say that that entity then is required to provide access to other broadcasters? ‘Broadcasters’ would be a loose term, would it?
Mr Tanner —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Some of whom may be competitors?
Mr Tanner —That is what an access regime, as I understand it, would be about, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —How is it going to be determined who these other access people might be? Would the owner determine that or the ACCC? Will the people who want to use it apply to the owner, the ACCC or you? How is that going to work?
Mr Tanner —The ACCC would consider a proposed access undertaking by the owner.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —The buyer of the channel will give undertakings as to what they would make available and that is part of the tender process, is it?
Mr Tanner —That is interleaved into the allocation process, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —It is interleaved?
Mr Tanner —It is going to happen at the same time as the—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —So you will set the condition?
Senator Coonan —No. It is a condition of somebody being able to bid that they would submit to an access undertaking as to the basis on which they could provide access to the platform.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Who will determine what is in the undertaking—is it the government or is it the buyer?
Senator Coonan —It is the ACCC which then decides whether or not it accepts the undertaking. It is just like a telecommunications access undertaking in principle.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —So a buyer will say, ‘Look, I am going to make this available to A, B, C and D.’ That will then go to the ACCC and they say, ‘Yeah, that is fair’?
Senator Coonan —No, it is a more general process. You do not nominate who you will make it available to. It is generally available, and you work out your prices and your non-price terms and that is part of—
Senator IAN MACDONALD —The owner will say, ‘I have got A, B, C and D availability.’ I should use ‘1, 2, 3 and 4 availability. If you want to use 4 availability, that will go to these types of people—community radio, say—and it will cost you X dollars’? They will do that for 1, 2, 3 and 4. That will then go to the ACCC, which will say, ‘Yeah, that is fine.’ The owner will then say, ‘Right. I am taking bids for 4 on those conditions’?
Senator Coonan —I am not quite sure that it would work like that, because it normally does not. I think the basic premise is that access will be provided to the platform so it is not capable of being a monopoly platform.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is in the conditions—
Senator Coonan —Of the sale.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —of the sale?
Senator Coonan —Of the allocating.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —If I buy this B channel—
Senator Coonan —Yes, you would buy it subject to providing access.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —I will know beforehand broadly what I have got to do and what I have got to offer?
Senator Coonan —Yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —And having bought it, I then make it available but the ACCC will double-check and say, ‘That is’—
Senator Coonan —You provide the terms on which you are prepared to do it.
Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thanks very much.
Senator CONROY —Notwithstanding the fact that you have had a document out for some months, popular but limited appeal—
Ms O’Loughlin —Limited in some way.
Senator CONROY —Limited in some way?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator CONROY —That sounds very definitive.
Ms O’Loughlin —I am sorry, I am using the term under the act.
Senator CONROY —What does it mean legally?
Ms O’Loughlin —Perhaps I can ask Mr Bezzi to address that.
Mr Bezzi —The legislation requires that an open narrowcasting service be a service with limited reception. The reception can be limited by being targeted to special interest groups; by being intended only for limited locations—for example, arenas or business premises; or by being provided during a limited period or to cover a special event, the telecast of a sporting event in a hotel, for example.
Senator CONROY —When you produced your guidelines did you just reprint the act?
Mr Bezzi —No, we did not. We certainly did that in part—
Senator CONROY —I am sure it was included, but I am sure you tried to give some guidance?
Mr Bezzi —We did.
Senator CONROY —There is a pop channel, limited—
Ms O’Loughlin —What we indicated in our guidelines is that it is very difficult to be able to make judgement calls on these things in the hypothetical. There is a provision under the act for potential service providers to come to ACMA to seek a binding opinion under section 21 of the act, where they can tell us the precise details of the service they intend to offer.
Senator CONROY —Have you received any inquiries yet that you have said yes and no to?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have had a number of inquiries.
Senator CONROY —Have you said yes to any of them yet, as in, ‘This would qualify as a narrowcast’?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, we have.
Senator CONROY —I am not asking who.
Ms O’Loughlin —I actually cannot say. We made the—
Mr Bezzi —There is a requirement in the legislation that we not publish the details of the opinion until the service commences—
Ms O’Loughlin —And I am not aware that the service has commenced at the moment.
Senator CONROY —So these things are secret?
Mr Bezzi —Until the service commences.
Senator CONROY —We do not get a chance to question the methodology behind until after you have actually done it?
Mr Bezzi —It is a requirement of the legislation.
Ms O’Loughlin —It is a requirement of the law.
Senator CONROY —Could a limited term sporting event qualify?
Ms O’Loughlin —As I said, we would have to look at the full detail of the proposal.
Senator CONROY —I have just given you the full detail of the proposal. What about a limited event? Take the Olympics, just for simplicity. That goes for a fixed period once every four years. That is very limited and—
Senator Coonan —It is on the antisiphoning list.
Senator CONROY —I was just picking a simple and obvious example of a limited-period sporting event. Would that falling into a definition of ‘limited’ in some way appeal?
Ms O’Loughlin —We would have to have more detail than that.
Senator CONROY —What do you not know about the Olympics? It is a big sporting event with lots of people getting together. It is held between certain dates every four weeks.
Ms O’Loughlin —I do know quite a lot about the Olympics, but I do not know whether the service you are going to provide is going to be to a particular geographic area. Is it going to be the whole of Australia? Is it going to be only on for a limited amount of time? Those are the types of issues on which we would have to have the information from the potential service provider.
Senator CONROY —What if I said I was only going to do the equestrian within the Olympics and I am only going to broadcast it to Sydney?
Senator Coonan —These are hypotheticals.
Senator CONROY —I am glad that your guidelines have created certainty for people to be able to bid.
Ms O’Loughlin —We have very clearly said in our guidelines that there is certainty available, which is to come to ACMA for a section 21 opinion under the act so that we can look at all the nuance of what the service provider wants to provide and give them a binding opinion.
Senator CONROY —So is this process completely secret?
Ms O’Loughlin —The provisions under the act are—
Senator CONROY —The process is secret. It is just a factual statement.
Senator Coonan —No.
Ms O’Loughlin —No.
Senator CONROY —After you have approved something; that is not part of the process. That is just, ‘Here is what we have done’ retrospectively.
Senator Coonan —You are arguing with the witnesses. They are telling you that they are complying with the provisions of legislation. They are not secret provisions. They are provisions that enable the development of a business application that fits the criteria under the act. It is not secret.
Senator WEBBER —But we cannot get any understanding of how it will work.
Senator Coonan —You can if—
Senator WEBBER —If we ask you about something that is in the future we get ruled out because it is hypothetical. We use an example in the past and we get all of this. We do not know what you mean. You have to be precise. To me it is therefore secret. I cannot work out what on earth you are doing.
Ms O’Loughlin —With respect to the narrowcasting services, we have obviously done quite extensive work on the radio side over a number of years, and the approach that we are taking with the narrowcasting guidelines is that we do not want to stop innovative services from coming forward to ACMA for us to have an opinion on. We do not want to judge what the market might want to provide as narrowcasting services on television.
Senator CONROY —Ultimately these are all testable in court, I presume. Just because you say they are okay does not mean they will ultimately be accepted.
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, they are. That is right.
Mr Bezzi —Can I qualify that? We give a view and for five years we cannot change our mind.
Senator CONROY —But a court can change your mind for you.
Mr Bezzi —It could if there was judicial review of our decision.
Senator CONROY —I am presuming there is judicial review.
Mr Bezzi —Yes, there is.
Senator CONROY —I would have thought that there is no choice but for there to be judicial review.
Mr Bezzi —That is correct.
Senator CONROY —I would like to return to Channel B. Is the delay in releasing the sales documents because you are trying to find a different spectrum for Channel B in the Sydney and Brisbane markets, so as to get around your transmission issues? Is that what the problem is? Are you looking for a different spectrum for Channel B in Sydney and Melbourne?
Mr Chapman —We dealt with that before the break in the sense that there is a matter that is outstanding in discussion, and until that matter is resolved we will not be issuing our revised timetable and it is inappropriate to comment on it.
Senator CONROY —We did not deal with it before the break. You would not answer because it was an ongoing policy matter. What I am now asking is: are you looking for different spectrum for Channel B in Sydney and Brisbane? It is not a policy question, it is a spectrum allocation question.
Mr Chapman —That is a matter upon which I am not prepared to comment.
Senator CONROY —It is not a policy question.
Senator WEBBER —It is not a policy question and it is not a commercial-in-confidence question, so you are required to answer.
Senator CONROY —It is a spectrum question.
CHAIR —It might have commercial implications perhaps.
Senator CONROY —It is just about spectrum.
Senator WEBBER —It is not about who is getting it or what they are going to pay.
Mr Chapman —I have taken advice and the answer is: no, ACMA is not.
Senator CONROY —You are not? Is the issue of ‘must carry’ on Channel A or B for community television?
Senator Coonan —That is a policy question.
Senator CONROY —I am happy for it to be described as a policy question. Is that one of the issues that is under consideration?
Senator Coonan —That is a policy question. I said earlier—
Senator CONROY —I am just asking whether it is under consideration. That is all.
Senator Coonan —I take all sorts of things into consideration. I am not going to add to my former answer that there are some issues to do with the allocation of Channel B that require some input of a policy nature and I have it under consideration.
Senator CONROY —Are there spectrum issues around Channel B that are still under consideration by ACMA?
Mr Chapman —When you say ‘are there spectrum issues’, could you perhaps clarify what you are asking?
Senator CONROY —I do not know. I am asking whether or not there are other spectrum issues than what I have asked questions about that ACMA is actively considering.
Senator Coonan —You do not need to answer that.
Senator CONROY —You do not answer spectrum questions. It is an ACMA question. They are an independent statutory authority.
Senator Coonan —I can, because it relates to the whole of the allocation of this channel, and I intend for there to be solutions in relation to any issues. But so far as I am concerned, the officers’ answers are perfectly correct. I do not want it to be thought that I do not have under consideration solutions that may be required, and that may require some instruction to ACMA to look at something.
Senator CONROY —I appreciate that.
Senator Coonan —I am just clarifying the different processes or roles.
Senator CONROY —Given that we have no-one who is actually prepared to tell us what those issues of spectrum are, you will understand that it is just a little confusing and difficult to formulate questions when the answers are, ‘We can’t tell you.’
Senator Coonan —I can understand that. Their answers are correct. But what I am trying to add to this process is that I think there are some issues to do with it that will be addressed, and I am addressing them.
Senator CONROY —I appreciate you have found a way to split a hair—not you, Minister—on the way I have asked my question.
CHAIR —You have to understand they are policy issues.
Senator CONROY —I will keep pondering whether I can find a way to sew the hair back together and put another question to you.
Senator Coonan —I will lend you a needle.
Senator CONROY —Thank you. That would be very helpful. I have some questions to do with Crosby Textor. Has ACMA undertaken any services or is considering undertaking any services with Crosby Textor?
Mr Chapman —We will take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —I am guessing the answer is no.
Mr Chapman —Unless my general manager for corporate services corrects me, I will take it on notice, but I think the answer is, no.
Senator CONROY —I have got a detailed breakdown of the question, so I will put that on notice for you to have a look at. I am guessing it would be a ‘no’. Is ACMA undertaking any advertising campaigns for any issues?
Mr Chapman —We are always, at any particular time, undertaking communications programs.
Senator CONROY —What are your communications programs at the moment?
Mr Chapman —We will start with those in Ms O’Loughlin’s area of responsibility. We touched on the Do Not Call Register communications programs earlier, but we are happy to take that as a starting point.
Ms O’Loughlin —As I mentioned earlier, there is an information and education program running alongside the Do Not Call Register rollout.
Senator CONROY —What does that consist of?
Ms O’Loughlin —That is predominantly print media, advertisements and information—also information brochures, quite a lot of industry information brochures, and material that has gone out to the Australia Post offices where people can actually fill in to nominate for the register in writing. That is the main extent of that program.
Senator CONROY —No TV advertising campaign?
Ms O’Loughlin —No TV.
Senator CONROY —No mail-outs?
Ms O’Loughlin —No.
Senator CONROY —No call centres phoning people to tell them to register with the Do Not Call centre?
Ms O’Loughlin —No. There is a call centre, but of course people ring in.
Senator CONROY —It is for incoming and not outgoing?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator CONROY —How much is the cost of that campaign?
Ms O’Loughlin —As I indicated earlier, the cost to date has been around $900,000.
Senator CONROY —What is the projected cost?
Ms O’Loughlin —The total projected cost at this stage is around about $1.5 million or $1.6 million over four years.
Senator CONROY —Is that with GST or without GST?
Ms O’Loughlin —I do not have that in my notes. I am happy to take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —But $1.6 million is your calculation at the moment?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes, over four years, as I said.
Senator CONROY —Will there be any other information campaigns?
Ms O’Loughlin —We generally have a strong education and information program, particularly around things like our internet safety activities. I do not have the figures in front of me, but most of that expenditure in this financial year would be about $200,000 or $300,000. I would have to take that on notice.
Senator CONROY —Yes.
Ms O’Loughlin —That is mainly getting information and articles out through our partner groups.
Ms Maddock —I assume you are not referring to information campaigns related to general consultation processes mandated on the—
Senator CONROY —No, advertising government wares. I have a string of questions which I will put on notice for more detailed breakdowns that capture all of those sorts of issues and those that you were mentioning.
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator CONROY —They will probably capture those, but they are not ones that are going to gain you any notoriety in that respect. I will put those on notice. I was wanting to get a list—and I am happy for this to be taken on notice—of the unspent funds against the 2006-07 budget, including the 2006-07 additional estimates and bill Nos. 5 and 6 funding requests. I would like that for outcome 1, 1.1, and 1.2 and outcome 2, 2.1 and 2.2. I am happy to detail that in a question on notice.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I would like to turn to issues regarding the handling of complaints relating to commercial radio codes of practice. Firstly, I understand that the codes of practice are intended to ensure that community standards in commercial broadcasting are reflected. Is that correct?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —And does ACMA police compliance with those standards?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have a number of roles in the operation of codes. ACMA is responsible for registering those codes in the first instance. As you mentioned, our test is to be satisfied that those codes are going to meet consumer expectations and standards. We then take complaints and investigate complaints against codes.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —When you say ‘to be satisfied that they will meet consumer expectations and standards’, how do you ensure that the code meets with consumer expectations and standards?
Ms O’Loughlin —We have a number of ways of doing that. Most of the time when the industry sectors undertake a code review they will also go out and consult with the community. We are always very interested to see what issues have come up, how they have dealt with those and how those have been dealt with in any code. We could also, of course, undertake our own research, if we felt that that was needed in that circumstance. We would also, of course, have our own complaints and investigations/findings over the life of the code. Normally, when the code review is coming up we have some sense of where there has been community concern registered to us through the complaints process.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I have some background with self-regulatory codes and so on. Whilst this one obviously has an enforcement mechanism, previous ones that I have been involved with have sought to heighten standards. Obviously that is what this achieves, but it also has to balance free speech issues as well. How are they weighed into this? If you are looking at broad community standards, broad community standards may not necessarily match up with what would be considered to be reasonable standards of freedom of speech. People might dislike what they hear, but that does not necessarily mean that they should be prohibited from being heard.
Ms O’Loughlin —I am not quite sure this will answer your question, but when we talk about meeting community standards it is a broad church. It is making sure that it is addressing those types of issues as well and that we are taking into account a very broad community view rather than just a narrow particular view on different elements where there might be great difference of opinion between sectors of the community.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —It might be helpful if we go into specific instances. I would like to look at the complaints against 2GB and, in particular, Mr Alan Jones, and the findings ACMA released on 12 April this year. How many complaints did you receive about Mr Jones with regard to this issue?
Mr Chapman —Four.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —There were four?
Mr Chapman —Yes.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Were they four distinct complaints? Four does not sound to me like much of a campaign, but I have seen complaints on things in the past where they take the nature of form letters and all the words are identical and a lot of constituent mail reflects that as well. Were they what you would describe as distinct complaints or did they look like they were four fairly similar complaints?
Ms O’Loughlin —We saw them as distinct complaints.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —My understanding is that, when you are handling complaints, you put yourself in the place of an ordinary person—conduct the ordinary person test—in assessing complaints against the code. Is that right?
Ms O’Loughlin —Yes; the ordinary reasonable listener test.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —What is the process that you look at for that? How do you assess what an ordinary or reasonable listener is? Who does that assessment process?
Ms O’Loughlin —That is a test that the authority uses in its thinking about what the complaint is about and its investigation.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —So the complaint is ultimately decided by the board?
Mr Bezzi —That test is used in a particular context in dealing with a particular aspect of code breaches relating to vilification, for example. It is a test that comes from the law of defamation. It is a test that helps authority members make an assessment about whether or not there has been compliance with the code requirements.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —So, obviously, as the complaints with respect to Mr Jones related to issues of vilification or allegations or vilification, that test would have come into play?
Mr Bezzi —That was the finding, yes, in relation to, I think, two of the eight issues that were dealt with.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Is it the ACMA board that sits as the ordinary reasonable person? Is that right?
Mr Bezzi —Yes. They make an assessment about whether that test has been complied with.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —In relation to this specific instance, did you consider the demographics of the listening audience for Mr Jones’ program? Is there a consideration there? It is coming back to that balancing of free speech issues and so on. Is there a consideration of the robust nature of the talkback radio environment and so on?
Ms O’Loughlin —We certainly did, and I think that is identified in the report of the investigation that we released.
Mr Bezzi —There is quite a detailed discussion about that in the report.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —You obviously found in your opinion that, in the view of a reasonable ordinary listener in that demographic, that is how they would still have interpreted Mr Jones’s comments?
Mr Bezzi —Yes, that was the finding. That is a paraphrasing of it, but broadly speaking that was the finding.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I am surprised. It strikes me that the approach of Mr Jones is more of a law-and-order type approach, and the transcripts of his comments that I have seen highlight that he made negative comments in regard to the types of text messages that were being circulated, but it was not an inciting-type remark. Can you tell me how the ACMA board came to consider that the reasonable ordinary person disagreed?
Mr Bezzi —That is set out very completely in the reasons; they were the reasons of the full authority.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Do you really think that the baby boomer demographic—the 2GB listeners of Mr Jones—would have interpreted his remarks as inciting violence?
Mr Chapman —Mr Bezzi is not a member of the authority. I chair that authority and I am joined by two other members of the authority. It is an authority of seven. That is the unanimous view that we came to, and the reasons are set out in our reasons for decision. We took all of those matters into account and we applied our own judgement about that assessment. I cannot add any more to what is otherwise very forthrightly and very fully set out in those reasons.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I accept that. Moving on to how it has been handled since then: how has 2GB responded to the findings of ACMA?
Mr Chapman —We are in formal dialogue with 2GB about the escalated compliance regime that we foreshadowed in our media release at that time, and I do not think that until that is concluded, in fairness to 2GB, it should be vented here. We are in dialogue formally with 2GB about it, and it is best left there.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I understand that, in a broader sense, but have they already taken steps in response that you are aware of?
Mr Chapman —In response to what?
Senator BIRMINGHAM —In response to your findings or indeed in response perhaps even to complaints, if you go back that far, have they instituted new programs to train their on-air talent and others?
Mr Chapman —As I understand it, they introduced some additional guidelines in calendar 2006, but I am not aware of any additional matters over and above that since our findings, and I assume that will be part of the continuation of the dialogue that I spoke about.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —You indicated that dialogue is ongoing. Does that mean there is some dissatisfaction from ACMA with regard to the responses of 2GB? Is there a reason why it is still ongoing?
Mr Chapman —These things take time and they are best approached sensibly and from a distance. In my experience it is best for some time to pass to allow a more calm, mutual and objective understanding of the circumstances and for decisions to be made in that context. I am not unhappy with the pace of the discussions, if you were suggesting the contrary.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I was not suggesting the contrary, but I was interested if there was a time line that you saw as a reasonable one—perhaps that a reasonable ordinary person would consider to be a reasonable time line?
Mr Chapman —There is always ultimately a test of reasonableness, and I am not unhappy with where dialogue currently is, and we will monitor that. We would expect to come to a decision and an outcome sooner rather than later, but I am not unhappy with the current status.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —In fairness to Mr Jones and 2GB, I would have thought it would be preferable if these matters could be resolved expeditiously. I would hope that would be the objective of all parties: to reach an agreement as to what measures need to be put in place as a result of the findings.
Mr Chapman —Thank you.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Looking back to the code more generally, what are the clauses of the code that relate to racial vilification?
Mr Chapman —It is clause 1.3(e).
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Is that consistent with racial vilification laws that have been passed by this parliament or state parliaments?
Mr Chapman —Our reasons for judgement very clearly indicate that there is a material difference in the way in which the industry phrased its code revision under 1.3(e), and probably the provisions you would find in the state or Commonwealth legislation. That is made very explicit in those reasons for decision.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —I take that to mean that it is tougher or it is more restrictive in what is allowed to be broadcast.
Mr Chapman —It is a different test, and again we highlight that in the reasons for decision.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —It is a different test, but would you interpret it to be a tougher test or a more restrictive test? As far as I am aware, Mr Jones and the radio station 2GB have not faced any criminal proceedings under any vilification laws, so I assume it must be a tougher test.
Ms O’Loughlin —It is fair to say that there is difference and it is fair to say that, depending on which state law you are looking at, the code revision may be seen as tighter.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Do you think there would be any benefit in seeking alignment between the state laws, the Commonwealth laws and—
Ms O’Loughlin —That would be a matter for the industry.
Mr Chapman —It was very clear from our reasons for decision that we saw a material difference in the provisions between 1.3(e) and the Commonwealth and state legislation that we have spoken about. Speaking personally, there would be enormous sense for the industry to consider a stronger alignment with that legislation. For example, the minister very logically made the observation at the time that that would be a sensible thing for the industry to do either in expediting the industry code revision, which is due to start this September, or indeed to make it part of that code revision. That would be a very logical starting point.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —The current code does not make any separate provisions for talkback radio, does it?
Mr Chapman —No, it is format neutral. That is the way we would express it.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —There may be some benefit at least in that revision process for considering whether the format of talkback perhaps is a more robust area of speech—without entering into dangerous territory—than perhaps other mediums or formats.
Mr Chapman —That is an observation that has been made by others. It is a matter for the industry to take on board when they consider their code.
Senator BIRMINGHAM —Thank you.
Senator WORTLEY —Can you advise how the new National Indigenous Television service and community television will have access to digital spectrum so that they can continue broadcasting when the analog signal is switched off? Can you advise what transitional arrangements in respect of access to digital spectrum will be in place during the transition period?
Mr Shaw —I believe this was caught up in the policy consideration around community TV generally.
Senator WORTLEY —Why am I not surprised?
Mr Shaw —If I find otherwise, I will certainly advise you otherwise.
Senator WORTLEY —If you find otherwise, you will take it on notice?
Mr Shaw —If I find other advice, I will certainly let you know. That is my understanding.
Senator WORTLEY —I would like to refer to an answer provided during additional estimates in February on the safety of children in gaming console chat rooms. Just to refresh your memory, the issue was about the unsupervised use in public of children’s hand-held computer games that connect with other local wireless networks. The specific concern was that many parents are not aware of the capabilities of the inbuilt mobile chat rooms such as that on Nintendo DS and DS Lite and specifically the possible safety risk for children when the device is used in a public space as other users with similar devices are able to enter the chat rooms uninvited. I welcome ACMA’s response to that to increase the awareness. You outlined three actions that are going to be taken. The first one was proposing to Nintendo Australia that it give the safety information in the Nintendo DS instruction guide and on the Nintendo’s website a heading that is more likely to attract greater attention than the Nintendo DS and wireless communication privacy questions. The second one was proposing to the Australian Consumers Association that it publish an article in Choice regarding the risk to children using chat facilities on game consoles and ways of mitigating these risks. The third one was that contacting the Australian Federal Police’s High Tech Crime Centre and online child sexual exploitation team which have experience in dealing with child safety issues related to internet chat rooms, notably in connection with the Virtual Global Taskforce to canvass other appropriate actions. Can you tell us where you are at with that?
Ms O’Loughlin —The first point is that I have recently written to Nintendo along the lines that are outlined in that. I have not received a response as yet, but we will be following it up. I cannot remember the other two. Sorry, I might cross over to Andree Wright, my executive manager in that area.
Ms Wright —We will be meeting shortly with officers from the AFP and the High Tech Crime Centre, as we do on a number of matters, and we intend to raise it at that time. We are also interested in making more visible the particular ways that function is utilised. It must be switched on with the game and then the user has to go into a chat room. They cannot be contacted while they are actually playing a game. We understand that there is a 20 metre radius and that you really need to be in the WiFi hot spot to pick it up. We think that, because it is not automatically switched on and that the information is listed, I think, in the guide that comes with the kit under ‘Privacy’, the better response would be to have it listed under ‘Children’s Safety’ so that parents can get across an issue which may not be a front-of-mind one. It is not automatically offered, but they need to know in what circumstances it could be switched on if the child is in a public place but not playing the game and that up to, I think, 16 people could have contact. So we want to go through those processes but we also want to be sure that those messages are sent very clearly.
Senator WORTLEY —Some of the constituents that have raised the issue have actually said that it can be up to 35 metres. The issue was that an uninvited user was actually within seeing distance of the child using the game. So that was one point. The second point that I raised was not that the feature exists on the game—I mean, children love it; it is fun for them to play with—the concern was that, as a parent, when you purchase the game you need to actually open the box, take out the information leaflet and then read the reference to that and get on the website. As a number of constituents have raised, these games started years ago so it is not like they are new game to parents. A lot of parents do not actually open the box. We cannot instruct parents to open the box and read the warning on a website. It is only when they are notified about it. So my concern was parents being aware of the capabilities. I do not know whether or not placing a label or a sticker on the box referring parents specifically to that feature would cover it. That was actually the concern—that parents were not aware of the capabilities and therefore they were not in a position to tell their children not to give their names and addresses to people or not in fact to meet with someone who comes on their chat station and says, ‘Meet me at the rotunda,’ that sort of thing. When a nine-year-old is on that game and someone comes on the chat program and says, ‘Meet me at the rotunda,’ the automatic response from the nine-year-old—and a number of constituents and I have asked kids this question—they think they are talking to another nine-year-old. And there are also the issues of bullying related to that. So if just a warning were placed on the box then parents would know that they actually needed to read the enclosed leaflet or to access the website and then go on. But I do acknowledge the actions that you are taking about as being very positive.
Senator Coonan —You will forgive me; I cannot resist this. Clearly it needs an advertising campaign, does it not, to make parents aware? It does have its role.
Senator CONROY —I have no doubt there will be one on the drawing board.
Senator Coonan —Sorry?
Senator CONROY —The department is looking forward to the prospect of it now, and the prospect of more mail-outs.
CHAIR —Senator Nash in fact does have some questions for ACMA.
Senator NASH —I have a couple of very quick ones back on the audit. When you did the audit when you were testing, did you note the strength of signals in each of the locations?
Mr Tanner —I would have to take it on notice. As I understand the primary purpose was to see if we could make and hold a connection. I expect we did also keep a record of the field strength as well, but I would need to take that on notice to check.
Senator NASH —That would be good, because it would be interesting to see that. If it was a full-strength signal everywhere you tested then I would suggest that you probably missed a whole lot of areas that really did need to be tested. I certainly understand you cannot go to locations or anything like that, but what number of towers did you test and what is the total number of towers in non-metropolitan Australia?
Mr Tanner —It was around 100 cells that we tested in a sample. The number of towers around Australia is in the thousands.
Senator CONROY —Now, I took on notice a question from you before, Mr Tanner.
Senator NASH —Sorry, could I just have the exact number, too, of the thousands, if you would not mind taking that on notice?
Mr Tanner —I am happy to.
CHAIR —So where are we at with ACMA now?
Senator CONROY —We are almost finished. I took on notice a question from you, Mr Tanner, earlier about the standard. I think the standard that has been suggested to me is the 1,000 millivolt per metre in an urban area. Does that sound familiar at all? Does that make any clearer what I am asking you about?
Mr Tanner —It is possible you are asking about the TV planning guidelines. I would have to go back and check, though.
Senator CONROY —Okay. I just wanted an answer to the question on notice. When I asked you before if you were trying to find different spectrum, you said no. What if I asked if you have found an alternate spectrum?
Senator Coonan —What was the question, sorry?
Senator CONROY —Would you say no or would you say yes?
Senator Coonan —I am sorry, I just missed the question.
Senator CONROY —I said when I asked before whether ACMA was trying to find different spectrum you said no.
Senator Coonan —They said no.
Senator CONROY —I am now asking you whether or not you found an alternative spectrum.
Mr Chapman —No.
Senator CONROY —So if I were to suggest that community TV were to move off channel 31, would that provide additional spectrum available to resolve your transmission problems in channel B in Sydney and on the Gold Coast? You know nothing about that whatsoever?
Ms Scott —These are matters of policy.
Senator CONROY —That is not what I asked. You cannot actually mislead a Senate estimates committee for this long.
Senator Coonan —It is a matter for government to decide what to do.
Senator CONROY —That is not what I asked. I did not ask if they were doing anything or if it was a recommendation; I asked whether they knew anything about that.
Senator Coonan —Knew anything? What do you mean by ‘knew anything’? Of course we know something about it. I am pretty familiar with it. Yes, I know about it.
Senator CONROY —I am asking ACMA. I am just concerned with ACMA’s previous answers. I suspect there was a splitting of the hairs.
Senator Coonan —Of course they know about spectrum.
Senator CONROY —I was not sure about their response to my last questions; that is why I was quite specific about the current questions.
Mr Chapman —I do not think it was a splitting of hairs, with respect. You asked us a question. If there was any change in that it would be a matter of policy for the government.
Senator CONROY —Okay. So the hold-up is that you are considering changing your position on must-carry for channel A to include community TV.
Senator Coonan —No, that is not correct.
Senator CONROY —It is not?
Senator Coonan —I have not confirmed it. I answered that yesterday.
Senator CONROY —No, I said you are considering it.
Senator Coonan —No, I did not see that either. I said I consider a lot of things. I did not confirm what.
Senator CONROY —No. As you have done previously, Minister, will you rule out a must-carry on channel A for community television—and you have ruled it out specifically previously?
Senator Coonan —That is the current policy position. I have said that I am looking at some policy modifications and I am not going to elaborate further.
Senator CONROY —Is it possibly a solution because if the must-carry provision for channel A were to include community television it would resolve the spectrum problems because Channel 31 would be available to be used on Sydney and the Gold Coast to solve the channel B problem?
Senator Coonan —I am not going to speculate about that.
Senator CONROY —Okay, thanks.
CHAIR —Is that it then?
Senator CONROY —Yes.
CHAIR —I thank ACMA for their attendance today. Now we recall the department. So it is Output 3.1 again all together.