Analogue TV could well be turned off in 2008 with the Minister for Communications, Senator Helen Coonan claiming that she is really keen to switch to Digital TV so that spectrum can be freed up for Digital Radio.
In an interview with SHN she accepted that one of the options open to her is to introduce legislation forcing manufacturers to include a digital tuner inside all TV sets imported into Australia.
In an effort to address the issues association with the switching off off of analogue TV transmissions the Minister has called for a moratorium of retailers, manufacturers, TV stations and interested parties. She said “I am really keen to switch off analogue TV so that spectrum is freed up for digital radio and to address this issue we are holding a moratorium to discuss the impact and what we have to do going forward”.
Appearing at the opening of the Australian Commercial Radio conference in Sydney the Minister told a packed audience of radio professionals that no date has been set to switch off Analogue Radio and the introduction of Digital Radio will be introduced over a period of time. “As radio is the only mainstream broadcasting platform to remain analogue-only, and with increasing competition from new digital platforms such as the Internet and mobile phones, the radio industry needs the certainty to plan and promote the potential benefits of digital radio,” Senator Coonan said.
Digital radio has the potential to deliver a range of new and innovative services to listeners such as record and rewind, streamed text with news and weather updates, play list information and even still pictures.
Digital radio provides an opportunity for improved audio quality and a greater diversity of radio services currently enjoyed by millions of Australians.
“The Government has consulted widely on the proposed introduction of digital radio and the input of a range of stakeholders has been useful in designing a suitable framework,” Senator Coonan said.
“Of course, the views of incumbent commercial broadcasters, whose brand recognition, significant investment and support will be vital to the success of digital radio in Australia, have been taken into account.
“International experience shows that digital radio will supplement existing analogue radio services for a considerable period, and may never be a complete replacement.
“Accordingly, the Government’s framework has been built around digital radio being a supplement to existing services in Australia rather a replacement technology, as it is in television.”
Therefore there will be a staged rollout of digital radio in Australia commencing in metropolitan areas as soon as practicable.
The Government will urge broadcasters to commence trials of digital radio in regional areas, so technical and other issues can be resolved. The Government will then consider what financial support is necessary to expand digital radio services to rural and regional Australians.
Under the framework, Australia will implement terrestrial digital radio based upon European Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) Standards, also known as Eureka 147.
The commercial, national and wide-coverage community broadcasters currently operating in the broadcasting services bands (BSB) in those areas will have the opportunity to participate and will share the available digital spectrum.
“Consistent with the Government’s 2004 election commitment, there will be a moratorium on the allocation of new BSB commercial radio licences, this moratorium will be for six years from the commencement of the first digital broadcasts,” Senator Coonan said.
“While this moratorium will preclude new commercial entrants to the BSB in digital for the period of the moratorium, there will be no new restrictions on current or potential commercial digital radio services operating outside the BSB.
“The Government will continue to work with industry stakeholders to develop the necessary legislative and planning structures to implement this framework.”
Other elements of the framework include dedicated spectrum for the two national broadcasters, a guaranteed minimum level of broadcast capacity to incumbent commercial broadcasters (more spectrum will be available if new services are offered), guaranteed access to the digital platform for wide-area community broadcasters, no simulcast requirement and a first right of refusal to broadcasters to control the multiplex and hold relevant spectrum for a nominal administration cost.
The picture radio which Senator Coonhan talked about during her speech combines the usual digital radio offerings – CD-quality sound, rewind and playback of the last few minutes of live radio – with an LCD screen capable of broadcasting pictures such as album covers, news images, text and advertising.
“We are not trying to be TV but we can add more value to radio,” said Joan Warner, the chief executive of the industry lobby group, Commercial Radio Australia.
“People have used radio in a certain way for the last 80 years,” she said, and while that was not about to change, digital technology enhances the pleasure of listening to radio.
It also gives commercial radio stations more in their armoury to compete with competition from the likes of mobile phone companies that offer live television and radio services.
Some Sydney radio stations, including Triple M, 2GB, 2UE and ABC Classic FM, have offered digital radio since 2003.
The service hasn’t been heavily marketed because it was only a trial until the Government decided on its policy, including setting a technical standard.
Patrick Joyce, the general manager of operations for Triple M’s owner, Austereo, has a digital radio at home.
He said he had already developed a habit noted in British research of “glancing at the radio”.
The digital radio framework is attached.
DIGITAL RADIO POLICY FRAMEWORK
· Digital radio will supplement existing analogue radio services for a considerable period and may never be a complete replacement.
· Planning for the introduction of terrestrial digital radio will initially focus on providing the spectrum to enable existing licence area planned state capital commercial, national and wide-coverage community broadcasters to commence digital radio services.
· Planning for the introduction of digital radio for e xisting licence area planned commercial broadcasters in other areas will be considered subsequently and on the basis of broadcaster interest in delivering digital services in the relevant licence area.
· Planning for the introduction of digital radio for e xisting licence area planned wide-coverage community and national broadcaster services in other areas will be considered at a later stage.
· Those categories of Broadcasting Services Bands (BSB) broadcasters not party to the initial planning process, including narrowcasters and localised community broadcasters, will be considered at a later stage.
· The provision of non-BSB digital radio services by operators of non-BSB delivered services, including section 40 licensees, will continue to be a commercial decision for relevant operators. The Government will continue to consider options for these broadcasters to deliver digital radio services outside the BSB.
Technology choice and spectrum requirements
· Eureka 147 will be the primary technology platform for BSB digital radio. However, it is a mature technology and international standards bodies are now considering newer versions, with more advanced compression standards, that will enable more efficient spectrum use. The Government will give further consideration to the feasibility of adopting these later standards.
· Eureka 147 is unlikely to be a suitable platform to address the extended coverage requirements of some regional and remote services. The Government will continue to monitor developments with digital radio technologies, including Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), to determine what supplementary platforms might be appropriate to address regional and remote coverage issues.
· The Government considers that technical trials of digital radio technologies, including DRM, need to be undertaken to determine which technologies or combination of technologies will best serve people living in regional and remote Australia.
· Subject to further technical advice, it is expected that where possible VHF Band III spectrum will be used for primary digital radio transmitters of commercial, wide-coverage community and national broadcasting services.
L Band is expected to be used for infill, localised services and where VHF Band III spectrum is unavailable, or insufficient.
· L-Band spectrum planning will include reservation of capacity for potential satellite digital radio services.
· Significant spectrum limitations currently exist for the introduction of digital radio in key markets (including major metropolitan and adjacent areas). The Government will consider releasing additional spectrum for new digital radio services in relevant markets following the closure of analogue television services, subject to demand and other competing uses for the spectrum.
· The Government will ask the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to give priority to reserving adequate VHF Band III spectrum for digital radio purposes when planning new digital television services, unless there are clear technical or consumer interests in the use of that spectrum for television.
· A moratorium will be introduced on the issue of new BSB commercial digital radio licences for a period of six years following the commencement of digital radio services in state capital markets. This moratorium will be subject to:
o the conditions set out in Australian Broadcasting Authority (Revisiting Radio LAPs) Direction No. 1 of 2003. This Direction is designed to allow for the issuing of a new licence by ACMA in circumstances where a change of ownership results in a reduction in the number of radio services of general appeal in the market; and
o the commercial broadcasters in the licence area complying with the digital implementation framework, including the rollout and coverage requirements (refer to paragraphs 29 and 30).
· Digital radio services will be subject to existing content regulation arrangements administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) applying to analogue radio services (including codes of practice, standards and licence conditions).
· There will be no requirement on broadcasters to simulcast their analogue service in digital.
· Subject to content regulation arrangements outlined in paragraph 15, there will be no limitations on types of additional radio or data services that can be broadcast.
· A new licence category will be established to enable non-radio broadcasters to make use of the digital radio platform to deliver non-radio services.
Multiplex operation and access
· Incumbent commercial and, if they choose, wide-coverage community broadcasters, in a licence area will have first right of refusal to elect to jointly (by way of a separate joint venture company) manage the operations of the multiplex ensembles and hold the associated spectrum licences, to be used for their services in that market, subject to meeting specific regulatory requirements regarding the transparency and openness of the joint venture operation. If they so elect, spectrum licences will be allocated for an administrative charge only.
· Where a valid election is not made in a licence area, the Government, by default, may allocate transmission licences to operate digital radio multiplex ensembles.
· Access rules will be established to assure commercial radio broadcasters and the wide-coverage community radio sector of access to minimum levels of capacity on multiplex ensembles, on published and non-discriminatory terms.
· C ommercial broadcasters will have minimum rights to acquire 128 kbps of multiplex capacity with the ability to acquire additional capacity (capped at 256 kbps and subject to bit rate availability limits in each market) on the condition that this is used to deliver new services.
· Jointly, wide-coverage community broadcasters in any market will have access rights to 128 kbps per analogue service (up to a maximum of 256 kbps per available multiplex) on the basis that they collectively determine how this is to be shared .
· Persons licensed to offer non-radio services will also have the right to acquire unreserved capacity on a multiplex to a maximum of 128 kbps, on published and non-discriminatory terms.
· Provision will be made for regulatory intervention by the ACCC to manage multiplex access, including to address access disputes and anti-competitive conduct.
· Spectrum allocation and licensing arrangements will continue to be managed by ACMA.
· Spectrum will be reserved for the national broadcasters equivalent to one multiplex ensemble with appropriate transmission licences to enable them to jointly manage single multiplex ensembles in each state capital and subsequently other markets. The role and timing of national broadcaster involvement in digital radio will be considered further in the context of normal budget processes.
Assistance for regional commercial broadcasters
Depending on the success of rollout in state capital areas, the Government will consider providing some capped financial assistance for the capital costs associated with rollout of digital transmission facilities by commercial broadcasters in regional areas.
Coverage and rollout requirements
· In the case of state capitals, existing licence area planned commercial digital radio licensees will be required to commence permanent broadcasts within a specified, legislated period and provide equivalent digital coverage to their existing analogue services by the end of the six year moratorium period.
· In other areas, where existing licence area planned commercial digital radio licensees are given access to additional broadcasting spectrum for digital radio services, they will be required to commence permanent broadcasts within a specified period and meet coverage and rollout commitments appropriate to such markets.