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Tuesday, 7 May 1968

Mr IAN ALLAN (Gwydir) - The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) said that the Overseas Telecommunications Commission was an example of a statutory corporation of the kind which could be set up to operate the Post Office. As he did in a debate last week, the honourable member advocated transforming the Post Office into a statutory body. There is no basis for comparing the Post Office with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission because the Commission is a strictly technical body having virtually no direct dealings with the public, whereas the Post Office deals directly with the public and has responsibilities covering a multitude of facets of service to the community. The success of the Commission indicates that the Government has been wise in selecting for it the present form of administration. The type of structure selected for the administration of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission is tailor made for the circumstances in which the Commission operates. Anyone who wishes to have first-hand evidence of the successful administration of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission and of just how efficient it is should pay a visit to Moree, where the first earth station in Australia for commercial communications from a satellite went into operation on 29th March last, when the Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme) opened this new service. Anyone who visits that station will be impressed not only by the efficiency of the Commission and its officers but also by the fact that with this step we have moved into a new era in communications. The earth station at Moree is, in relation to future developments with satellite communications, in very much the same position as skyrockets are to intercontinental ballistic missiles. We know that this is a new venture in a totally new field, and therefore that it is quite elementary, and that in the course of very little time indeed there will be some tremendous, quite radical developments in this field. Already we can see the trend of these developments.

In 1965 the chairman of the Radio Corporation of America, Brigadier General David Sarnoff, forecast that satellite communication would enable us to receive telephone communications, radio broadcast and television entertainment via satellite in our own homes, at small cost. This is the way in which we can expect developments to move in the next few years, and it is for us in Australia now to contemplate this prospect and to make our plans accordingly. We do not want to be caught as we were caught with the introduction of broadcasting in Australia. We do not want to repeat the mistakes which we made at that time and which subsequently have denied Australians the advantage of frequency modulation broadcasting, a benefit which is enjoyed by people in the United States of America and in Europe but has been prevented in Australia because we got off on the wrong foot with broadcasting. We do not want to make similar mistakes with this new form of satellite communications. We can see the trend and we should be planning now to meet the need when it arises, to provide Australia with the most efficient communications system possible.

The element of cost enters into this. We are a country of vast size and small population and we cannot afford, perhaps, the kind or scale of communications that the United States can afford. However, if we plan carefully, if we go into it thoroughly, I am sure we will be able to find adaptations to the system suitable for our needs in Australia. We must measure the costs - there will be costs - against the advantages that will accrue to us and also against those savings that will accrue by the elimination of land lines, perhaps, or the ground stations that we have at the present time.

Since General Sarnoff made his prediction in 1965 that we would have this type of direct satellite-to-domestic receiver communication, there has been quite a controversy in the United States. That country has an organisation equivalent to the Australian Overseas Telecommunications Commission. It is the Communications Satellite Corporation, commonly known as COMSAT, and it is geared to international communications and not to domestic communications. However, it has yielded to pressure and has put forward a plan to provide America with domestic communications via satellite. It is proposing to put up a satellite in 1969 to provide a number of expensive ground stations with signals. An argument is waging quite fiercely in the United States as to whether this is a useful step or whether in fact it is heading in a completely wrong direction. There are strong advocates for the proposal that General Sarnoff put forward, that instead of feeding signals back from a satellite to an expensive ground station and feeding them out from the ground station by microwave or landline or radiating them from a broadcasting station, satellites should be powered to enable them to broadcast direct from space to domestic receivers. It is estimated that the cost of adaptation of a domestic receiver would be about $100 if this system were put into effect.

However, there is strong resistance to this idea in the United States. COMSAT does not want it, evidently because the pressure groups in the United States which stem from the heavy investment that has already been made in land lines and in broadcasting stations favour the first proposal, that satellites should feed ground stations, which in turn should feed the existing network. But the Americans' hand will be forced in this matter, and this is quite evident because the Russians and the Japanese, who are well advanced technically in this field, have no such local pressures to influence their judgment, and they are going flat out for direct satellitetodomestic receiver communication. If America stays out of this race, if it is sidetracked by COMSAT or by the pressure groups, it will be well behind and will be in the position of having signals transmitted from Russia, or from Japan for that matter, via satellite to domestic receivers within the United States. We in Australia will be in the same position, because these signals will be freely available to anybody who puts up the $100 to fit his set with the proper adaptors. Therefore, America will have to go in for this form of communication, and it will have to do this quite rapidly; it will have to move within the next couple of years. I quote from an article which appeared in 'Fortune' magazine of October last year. The words that General Sarnoff used in bis address in 1965, which I have referred to, were, according to the article, these:

Developments are too radical in their nature, and the pace at which they come is too swift, for the past to serve as an effective prelude to the communicating future. We must look for entirely new procedures, attuned to the realities of the spage agc.

Within a decade, and possibly less,' said Sarnoff, 'I believe it will be technically feasible to broadcast directly into the home from synchronous satellites. All of the basic components and technology already exist. . . .

That was a prediction made in 1965, and since then there has been quite substantial progress in the other countries, although for the reasons I have stated, there is some hitch in the United States. The article in Fortune' which contains General Sarnoff's words also says:

Canada is considering a $80m plan to build its own domestic satellite system without delay. . . .

Japan is actively weighing a satellite system of its own to link its sprawling, mountainous islands, more economically than expensive cable and microwave-relay lines. Its electronics industry, second only to that of the United States, is reported to be but a year or two away from having a direct-broadcasting satellite technically in hand.

Later the article states:

At the same time, the Soviet Union, which is not a party to Intelsat, has been busy. It launched its first communication satellite ... in 1965.

It now has five communication satellites serving the domestic scene in Russia. The article continues:

The USSR meanwhile is also working on synchronous direct-broadcasting satellites, which are particularly applicable to its far flung territories and appealing to its totalitarian nature, for they would enable it eventually to reach directly into almost any region of the earth.

I will not quote any more of the article; I have said sufficient to show that we in Australia must reckon with the pace of change in satellite communication. We cannot sit back quietly and calmly, as we did with television, and watch developments in other countries.

We will be faced in the next few years with a situation in which we will be able to receive directly in our own homes signals transmitted from Japan or Russia and pos.sibly from other countries and to do so we will need to -make only a very small change to our present receiving sets. This will affect us quite closely. It is time that we looked at the total subject very carefully and made whatever preliminary arrangements we can. The use of satellites to provide communications by television or by broadcasting will mean entering the ultra high frequency range and using frequency modulation broadcasting. We have resisted this in Australia, but it may be wise for us to licence some frequency modulation stations operating in the ultra high frequencies. In that way we will be ready for the invasion of these signals from space in the next few years. This will apply, particularly to colour television. When we do introduce colour television in Australia, we could concentrate on ensuring that it uses the ultra high frequency bands. Similarly, with telephone communications and telex we should be preparing now for the invasion of satellite signals.

We should consider the, organisation that we must set up in Australia when we in our turn are in a position to put up a satellite for use with our own communications here. We should consider how such a satellite will be financed and how we can establish co-ordination between the various interests that will be Involved. I have in mind the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the commercial broadcasting stations. We must consider how this will tie in with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, which deals with foreign communications. These matters should be considered now. 1 am amazed that so little has appeared in the Press on this subject. In fact, I have not read any authoritative article on this subject in the Australian Press. I am amazed that the subject has been neglected, because it is of vital significance to a country as vast as Australia is. Communications of all kinds here are of pressing importance. I trust that the Postmaster-General will give the matter his urgent consideration.

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