22 February 2001
ABA determines remote licence areas for digital television
The Australian Broadcasting Authority has determined eight commercial television licence areas to be remote licence areas for the purposes of conversion to digital broadcasting.
These are the licence areas of ITQ Mt Isa, IMP and QQQ Remote Central and Eastern Australia, WOW Regional and Remote Western Australia, WAW Remote Western Australia, VEW Kalgoorlie, GTW Geraldton and SSW South West and Great Southern Western Australia.
The Broadcasting Services Act deems all non-metropolitan licence areas to be regional, unless the ABA determines them to be remote.
A new provision of the Act (section 38B) allows existing commercial television broadcasters in two-station regional markets to apply for one additional licence in their market (unless a remote licence area overlaps their licence area). The broadcasters can compete for the licence or apply jointly.
These new third services can only be provided using digital transmissions. This means that during the digital conversion process the two existing analog services must be simulcast in digital mode while any new third service will be available in digital mode only.
All the two station regional markets (Tasmania, Darwin and Mildura), have overlaps with a remote licence area (Remote Central and Eastern Australia). The ABA is proposing to vary the television licence area plans for Remote Central and Eastern Australia to remove the overlap between the Remote Central and Eastern Australia television licence areas and the Tasmanian commercial television licence areas. This will enable the Tasmanian licensees to notify the ABA of their intention to apply for an additional licence (see backgrounder).
The time when these licence applications can be made is tied to whether a licence area is remote or regional. Eligible regional broadcasters must notify the ABA within a sunset period of 90 days from 1 January 2001. For the remote area broadcasters, and regional areas with overlaps with remote areas, the timing is 90 days from a date to be determined by the ABA.
A number of new provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to do with the digital conversion of television services came into force on 1 January 2001.
The Act empowers the ABA to determine remote licence areas for the purposes of the conversion of commercial television broadcasting services to the digital mode of transmission. Conversion is governed by the Commercial and National Television Conversion Schemes (the schemes).
The schemes empower the ABA to determine the policies, methods and procedures it will use to achieve conversion of commercial and national television transmissions from analog mode to digital mode over time, while meeting the Government's policy objectives.
Broadcasters in regional licence areas are bound under Part A of the schemes. The Act provides however that the schemes must have a Part B to cater for the special circumstances of remote areas. Remote coverage areas in relation to National services are deemed to be the same as remote licence areas.
The legislation is prescriptive about the contents of Part A of the Schemes, including the requirement to start up digital transmissions no later than 1 January 2004. In Part B issues such as whether remote broadcasters will be required to match their existing analog coverage and provide specified minimum amounts of high definition television (HDTV) are left to the ABA's discretion. The ABA is yet to develop these policies.
Nevertheless, the ABA has determined which licence areas are 'remote' for the purposes of Part B because the timing provisions of section 38B of the Act apply differently to affected licensees, depending on whether they are licensed to serve remote or regional licence areas.
Section 38B provides for the allocation of a third commercial television licence in two-station markets. Section 38B commenced on 1 January 2001, from which time affected licensees in regional licence areas have 90 days to act if they wish to seek the additional licence (unless their licence areas are overlapped by a remote licence area, in which case the timing is tied to that of the remote licence area). Licensees in remote licence areas will have 90 days from a time to be determined by the ABA in which to act.
The licensing mechanism is for eligible licensees to notify their intention to pursue one of three options to secure the one additional licence that is available. They can form a joint venture licensee company, one or the other may apply alone or both may apply separately, in which case they must compete at auction for the licence.
By formally determining the remote licence areas now the ABA prevents inappropriate treatment of remote area broadcasters under s.38B. If the ABA had not determined these areas to be 'remote', the 90-day period would commence to run in all markets from 1 January 2001.
The determination will also provide certainty to industry as to which commercial television licensees and national broadcasting services are to be bound by Part B of the Schemes.
The determination can be found on the ABA website.
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