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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2740

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (1.49 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President—

Senator Kemp —Sit down, Bob!

Senator COLLINS —I can speak in this debate.

Senator Kemp —You are not on the speakers' list.

Senator COLLINS —So what? I will be brief to allow my colleague to speak. Senator Alston specifically invited me in the address that he just delivered to respond briefly, and I will respond briefly to one of the items that he raised.

  The facts are—and I will be brief—that whilst the Broadcasting Services Act provides for potentially different start-up dates for cable, MDS and satellite delivered pay TV services, it is totally inaccurate to say that those companies that have been allocated cable pay TV licences are `free to start a cable channel right away'. Cable delivered services are licensed under section 96 of the act. Whilst there are no timing constraints on the issue of these licences, there is a range of regulatory conditions that apply and a number of quite significant technological and commercial limitations, which include the dependency of a cable service on broadband capacity into homes, which is a labour intensive, time consuming and very expensive exercise; the cost for the roll-out of a hybrid coaxial optical fibre system; and the need for cable operators to obtain program rights, establish studios, subscriber management and retail infrastructure, and undertake marketing.

  It should be noted that licences for services using MDS and cable are issued subject to suitability requirements in a Trade Practices Commission report. The application fee for each licence is $785, with a maximum of $1,570 payable where more than one licence is involved. As Senator Alston said, cable operators will also either have to bear the cost of laying out the cable infrastructure themselves, which is very significant, or have to lease it from a telecommunications carrier, which would have to be struck at a rate that gives the person who lays the cable a commercial return on the layout of that cable.

  I am advised that the assertion that has been made that `Telecom is on the verge of making an offer to Paynet to cable Cairns and Townsville' is also totally inaccurate. Telecom has informed me as of yesterday that, even on its most optimistic calculations, significant numbers of households will not be able to be cabled until 1995.