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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1353

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Dividend and Other Measures) Bill 2011 introduces amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radiocommunications Act 1992, the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 and the Copyright Act 1968. These amendments introduce measures to effectively implement a reorganisation of digital television channels to realise the digital dividend, and to improve the regulatory framework for free-to-air digital television services provided on the VAST satellite service and the switchover to digital-only television.

On 24 June 2010, the government announced that 126 megahertz of broadcasting spectrum would be released as a digital dividend. The digital dividend will be released as a contiguous block of spectrum in the upper ultra high frequency, or UHF band, in the frequency range 694 to 820 megahertz inclusive.

This spectrum will become available as a result of the switch to digital-only television and the release of spectrum currently used for analog television. Digital switchover will be completed in Australia by 31 December 2013.

UHF spectrum currently used for broadcasting services is highly valued for delivering wireless communications services, including super-fast mobile broadband. The government aims to auction the digital dividend spectrum in the second half of 2012, allowing successful bidders ample time to plan and deploy the next generation networks that are likely to use the spectrum.

In order to release this highly valued spectrum, broadcasting services will need to be relocated out of the identified digital dividend spectrum and organised more efficiently within the remaining broadcasting spectrum. This process is known as ‘restacking’.

On 9 July 2010, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy made the Australian Communications and Media Authority (Realising the Digital Dividend) Direction 2010. The purpose of the direction was to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with policy guidance on the Australian government’s digital dividend objectives.

To assist the ACMA to plan and implement the restack of broadcasting services as efficiently as possible, the government proposes amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radiocommunications Act to modify the existing planning process for television broadcasting services. The amendments will provide the ACMA with greater regulatory flexibility during the restack process and also enhance the ACMA’s enforcement powers in relation to television broadcasting planning.

The ACMA will also be given the power to make new planning instruments, called television licence area plans, for television broadcasting services. During the restack process, the flexible planning powers in these new instruments will allow the ACMA to plan a sequential restack timetable in a licence area. They will also allow temporary digital simulcasts, which may be necessary in metropolitan and larger population centres where a significant number of television antennas may need to be reconfigured over a period of time.

There will be a legislated deadline of 31 December 2014, to be known as the ‘designated restack day’, for restack to be implemented in a licence area. This is one year after the completion of digital television switchover nationally. Provision will be made for the minister to extend the designated restack day in a particular licence area beyond 31 December 2014, but only where this is necessary for unavoidable technical or engineering reasons.

From the date of the commencement of these amendments and until the designated restack day, the amount of consultation the ACMA has to undertake in respect of television broadcasting services will be reduced. This will allow the ACMA to focus its consultations on the criteria relevant to the restack and with those stakeholders directly affected by it. After the restack is complete, the broad planning and consultation requirements that apply in relation to all other services operating in the broadcasting services bands, would apply again to the planning of television services.

The amendments would also give the minister the power to direct the ACMA, by legislative instrument, about the exercise of its powers to make or vary a television licence area plan. This power would enable the minister to give further policy direction and clarification to the ACMA in relation to restack, if required. This specific directions power will cease to have effect on the designated restack day for a licence area.

The bill also introduces a number of amendments to the legislative framework for the new VAST satellite services licensed under section 38C of the Broadcasting Services Act.

Proposed amendments to the conditional access scheme governing access to the VAST service in remote Western Australia will mean that viewers who reside in the larger television markets can only apply to access the VAST service if their reception of local terrestrial commercial digital television services, once provided, is inadequate. This provides the remote commercial broadcasters in Western Australia with the opportunity to roll out their terrestrial digital television infrastructure and means that viewers in these areas would not need to purchase satellite reception equipment unnecessarily. But at the same time, the VAST service remains available for people in digital television black spots, ensuring they are able to receive the full suite of digital television channels.

The bill also inserts provisions for determining whether digital terrestrial television services in a particular area of Australia are deficient. The ACMA will be able to declare an area ‘service deficient’ if, after a specified time after switchover, the number of terrestrial commercial digital television services, including digital multichannels, is less than those required to be provided on the VAST service. Viewers in declared service-deficient areas will then be able to access the VAST service to receive the full suite of digital television channels if they choose to do so.

The bill would also introduce measures to make sure that viewers who have already purchased and installed satellite reception equipment and legitimately obtained access to the VAST service in a particular location because of digital television signal deficiency, cannot subsequently lose that access at a later date if terrestrial digital television reception is extended to their location. The bill also introduces other minor amendments intended to improve the ACMA’s oversight and administration of the conditional access scheme.

The bill makes a minor amendment to the Copyright Act to clarify that, where a section 38C licensee re-transmits a broadcasting service other than the services the licensee is required to provide, that re-transmission would be subject to the general broadcast re-transmission provisions of Part VC of the Copyright Act.

The bill makes a number of minor amendments in relation to the provision of digital television services and the digital switchover process. These new measures include assisting remote commercial broadcasters to provide the full range of free-to-air digital television services, including digital multichannels such as GO!, GEM, 7TWO, 7MATE, ONE and ELEVEN.

In recognition of the significant costs of terrestrial transmission in remote markets, the new measures are intended to allow remote broadcasters to provide all of their digital multichannels in standard definition before the end of switchover although they may still elect to provide high-definition services. After digital switchover, commercial television broadcasters in these markets, like all other commercial television broadcasters, will have the option of providing any combination of standard and high-definition channels within their allocated spectrum.

There may be circumstances where it is not feasible for some broadcaster transmission sites to be converted to digital. This will especially be the case where sites only serve very small communities or do not, or will not, transmit all of the commercial and national broadcasters’ services in digital. The bill proposes amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act under which commercial or national broadcasters may apply to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for exemption from converting these transmission sites to digital. Before granting the exemption, the minister would consult with the ACMA and would need to be satisfied that viewers currently served by these analog transmission sites would have access to alternative digital television options, such as the VAST satellite service. Broadcasters would not be permitted to make an application in relation to digital terrestrial services that have already commenced transmission.

In addition to these exemption provisions, the bill inserts new criteria the minister must consider when deciding to approve or reject an implementation plan to establish a new digital television service, when a plan is submitted by a national broadcaster. The minister would be required to consider whether there are other means by which people in the area can view an adequate and extensive range of national broadcasting services, including by satellite, and whether other broadcasters operating in the area have or will be converting their terrestrial services to digital.

The bill would make amendments to address regulatory issues that may arise where, for broadcast planning or other technical reasons, specific analog transmitters may need to be switched off earlier than the switchover date in a licence area. The current power that enables the minister to determine digital-only local market areas does not have the flexibility to allow a commercial or national broadcaster to stop analog transmissions in small geographical areas without technically breaching its digital conversion obligations under the Broadcasting Services Act.

The bill would repeal provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radiocommunications Act that require the commercial television conversion scheme to deal with the regulation of digital transmissions by commercial television broadcasting licensees from former analog self-help re-transmission sites. The issuing of licences for the transmission of digital services from former analog self-help re-transmission sites can be achieved through other regulatory mechanisms available to the ACMA, making these provisions redundant.

Finally, the amendments in the bill would address an inconsistency between the Radio Communications Act and the Broadcasting Services Act in relation to licences for the transmission of commercial and national television broadcasting services after the end of the simulcast period in a licence area.

The amendments to the broadcasting legislation introduced by this bill will progress the government’s digital television switchover program and the restack of digital television channels to realise the digital dividend.

The amendments will give further scope for the rollout of all digital television multichannel services to all Australians, bringing truly equal television services to viewers in regional and remote areas for the first time and will give the ACMA the tools necessary to successfully plan and implement the digital channel restack in cooperation with the broadcasting industry. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Anthony Smith) adjourned.