Planning process for broadcast services | ACMA

Planning process for broadcast services

The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (the ACMA) general approach to planning sets out the legislative framework and planning criteria and the planning of broadcasting services.

In December 2001, the ACMA completed an Australia-wide public planning process aimed at deciding the number, type and technical characteristics of new broadcasting services for all areas of Australia.

Detailed information on specific aspects of the allocation process is available in information packages produced by the ACMA when a licence becomes available for allocation. Please contact the Licensing section of ACMA for further information.

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Key elements of the ACMA's planning and allocation process

  • The Minister has given the ACMA, an independent statutory authority, responsibility for planning and allocating all parts of the radiofrequency spectrum used for free-to-air broadcasting services in Australia - the airwaves used for AM and FM radio, and VHF and UHF television spectrum (the broadcasting services bands).
  • Planning is accompanied by wide public consultation. At the end of the planning process for each area, the ACMA prepares a licence area plan (LAP) - a comprehensive blueprint for development of all free-to-air broadcasting in that area.
  • Much of the detailed planning of transmission facilities will be carried out by successful licence applicants themselves within guidelines set down by the ACMA.
  • Technical characteristics prescribed in LAPs and the ACMA's Technical Planning Guidelines provide a non-negotiable 'envelope' of technical parameters and procedures within which licensees must do their detailed planning.
  • Commercial licence allocation is by a price-based 'auction style' process under which all commercial broadcasters take full responsibility for their own viability.
  • Licences for open narrowcasting services which use the broadcasting services band spectrum are also issued under a price-based allocation process.
  • Community licence allocation is merit-based with frequencies made available free-of-charge.
  • Regulation of content is now separate from regulation of transmission. The content of broadcasting services is authorised by either a service licence or class licence under the Broadcasting Services Act. Separate authorisation may be required for the means of carriage.

Aspirant broadcasters and planning

If you are an aspirant broadcaster, you can position yourself to benefit from the licence area planning process during public consultation in your particular area of interest.

You can lodge expressions of interest with the ACMA containing evidence supporting the service you wish to operate. You can also make submissions to the ACMA about the licence area, transmission power, transmitter location and other key characteristics of the new service you wish planned. Suggestions for improving reception of existing services can be made at this point too.

Before finalising a LAP, the ACMA releases discussion papers to allow anyone interested to react to its preliminary decisions. This is your final opportunity to shape the final outcome of the planning process. When a LAP is finalised, the ACMA will generally not alter it and cannot do so without further public consultation.

Key features of licence area plans (LAPs)

  • A LAP is a legal instrument setting out the number, characteristics and the technical specifications of all radio and television services within a licence area.
  • LAPs specify the category (commercial, community, national and narrowcasting) of any new services in a licence area.
  • The technical specifications set out in LAPs are not negotiable after finalisation. There is a process to modify the sites of transmitters.
  • Further information: List of current licence area plans

If you seek a commercial broadcasting licence or a transmitter licence to provide an open narrowcasting service you must purchase a price-based licence allocation package.

No service licence is required for a narrowcasting service.

There are special provisions for single licence radio and television markets.

Key features of price-based allocation systems

  • In areas where licences available for allocation, the ACMA will advertise for applications.
  • Applicants for licences will be required to register with the ACMA and pay an application fee for each licence you applied for.
  • A price-based auction for licences will be held and licences will be allocated to the highest bidder. The ACMA must set a reserve price for individual licences.
  • If there is only one applicant, the licence will be allocated at the reserve price, subject to the requirements of the Broadcasting Services Act or the Radiocommunications Act.
  • The ACMA will to advertise and auction a number of licences at one time.

Further information on commercial and open narrowcasting licences:

Key features of the community licence allocation process

If you are seeking a community licence, you must respond to the ACMA's call for applications, after which ACMA will assess the comparative merits of all applications.

  • Allocation of community licences is subject to the ACMA’s discretion.
  • Applicants for community licences must represent a community interest and the Minister may direct the ACMA to give priority to a particular community interest or interests.
  • Your proposed service must be not-for-profit and be provided for community purposes.
  • The ACMA assesses applications and other information (planning information and any relevant submissions etc.) to consider the extent to which your proposed service meets community needs and your capacity to provide the service.
  • Applications are open to community scrutiny and input.
  • The ACMA may also use other procedures, such as hearings, to assess the comparative merit of applicants.

If you are allocated a community licence, you must commence your service within 12 months of the day you were granted the licence (six months in the case of open narrowcasting services). If you request, the ACMA can extend this period at its discretion.

In the interim, a key challenge for you will be the planning of your transmission facilities. This planning is your responsibility and must be carried out in accordance with the non-negotiable technical specifications of the service as determined in the LAP and in compliance with the Technical Planning Guidelines (the TPGs), or equivalent conditions in the case of open narrowcasting services.

The TPGs set down procedures which must be followed and limits which must be observed when planning new transmission facilities or changes to existing facilities.

Further information on community licences:

Key features of the Technical Planning Guidelines

The TPGs came into effect on 10 August 1995. They include:

  • mandatory guidelines relating to start up procedure (including test transmissions)
  • change of transmitter site procedure
  • minimum and maximum radiated power and maximum field strengths
  • interference to other services and emission standards.
  • Transmitters licensed before 10 August 1995 are potentially subject to the TPGs. The TPGs will apply if any significant change is made to the technical specifications of an existing transmitter.
  • The TPGs provide some flexibility for licensees wishing to use an alternative transmitter site to that published in the LAP, The responsibility is on the on the licensee to complete necessary checks and calculations to determine if use of the alternative site will be satisfactory.
  • Compliance with the TPGs is a licence condition on all transmitter licences which are associated with commercial and community broadcasting service licences.
  • Similar guidelines may be applied as special conditions to the transmitter licences of national broadcasting services and narrowcasting services using the broadcasting services bands.

Further information on TPGs: Technical Planning Guidelines

Key features of transmitter licences

Transmitter licences form an important component of the licensing regime because your service's technical specifications (as determined in the LAP) and compliance with the TPGs are both enforceable as automatic conditions of your transmitter licence.

The transmitter licence authorises the carriage of your service. It can only be issued once a licence area has been planned, you have been allocated a service licence and begun planning your transmission facilities in accordance with the TPGs.

  • Your transmitter licence remains in force for the length of your broadcasting service licence.
  • Further information on transmitter licences

Allocation of other licences

The planning process applies primarily to the issuing of broadcasting licences. While allocation of licences for other services using the broadcast spectrum must follow the procedure outlined above, the planning process is not necessary.

There is a limit on commercial television licences to no more than three licences to a market until after a date specified by government proclamation. No limit applies to new commercial or community radio licences, which may be granted to any suitable person.

Any potential broadcaster who wishes to use cable subscription television broadcasting services, non-broadcasting spectrum or any other method of delivering a signal can obtain a licence by applying to the ACMA and paying a fee.

Licences in other categories are even simpler to obtain. The ACMA has a class licence for:

  • subscription radio broadcasting
  • subscription radio or television narrowcasting
  • open radio or television narrowcasting.

Anyone intending to provide any such service can commence operations immediately, as long as you comply with the conditions of their particular class licence. You do not need to contact the ACMA, unless you require a transmitter licence to use the broadcasting services bands spectrum or you need an opinion about the category into which your service will fall.

Relevant licences required under the Radiocommunications Act for spectrum outside the broadcasting services bands must be obtained from the ACMA.

Last updated: 19 September 2016