Overview of digital radio licensing
The licensing framework for digital radio is established under a digital radio multiplex transmitter (DRMT) licence category system. The ACMA can only issue a DRMT licence to a qualified company that means a company that is formed in Australia and has a share capital. Before licensing a DRMT, the ACMA must prepare a digital radio channel plan for the area.
Under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 there are three categories of DRMTs – category 1, category 2 and category 3. The Radiocommunications Act 1992 also specified which digital radio services may be transmitted by each category of DRMT.
Only national digital radio services may be transmitted by category 3 DRMTs. The ACMA has licensed a category 3 DRMT in each metropolitan licence area.
The ACMA can declare category 1 and category 2 DRMTs as foundation licences. Foundation licences provide ‘standard access entitlements’ for incumbent licensees, namely:
- each incumbent digital commercial radio broadcasting licensee in the licence area is entitled to access one-ninth of multiplex capacity under a foundation category 1 or category 2 DRMT; and
- two-ninths of multiplex capacity under a foundation category 1 or category 2 DRMT is reserved for sharing between digital community radio broadcasting licensees that have been nominated by the digital community radio broadcasting representative company for the area; and
- each national broadcaster is entitled to access one-ninth of multiplex capacity under a foundation category 2 DRMT.
For DAB+ transmissions, one-ninth of multiplex capacity is 128 kbps, which includes capacity to provide error protection for services. Therefore, an incumbent commercial radio broadcaster using its standard access entitlement should be able to broadcast two or three good quality music radio services or four voice radio services.
Foundation DRMT licences are to be held by ‘eligible joint venture companies’ and shares in eligible joint venture companies can only be held by incumbent digital commercial radio broadcasters, digital community radio broadcasting representative companies and national broadcasters. The ACMA is not to licence more foundation DRMTs in a licence area than is necessary to meet the standard access entitlements.
The ACMA has declared nine DRMT licences across the Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney designated BSA radio areas to be foundation category 1 DRMT licences, by the Radiocommunications (Foundation Category 1 Digital Radio Multiplex Transmitter Licences) Declaration 2007. Eight of these foundation DRMT licences have been allocated (the Hobart DRMT licence has not been allocated).
The ACMA has not declared any foundation category 2 DRMTs at this time.
If the ACMA were to licence any more DRMTs in the five metropolitan areas, these licences could not be foundation DRMTs, as all the eligible incumbent licensees have been catered for. Future DRMTs in these licence areas would not allow for standard access entitlements, but licensees would be able to seek access through ‘distributed-capacity’ obligations (see the Radiocommunications Act 1992).
Digital community radio broadcasting representative company
Designated community radio broadcasting licensees1 hold shares in the eligible joint venture companies through digital community radio broadcasting representative companies. These representative companies nominate the digital community broadcasting licensees in a licence area to access a portion of the two-ninths of multiplex capacity reserved for the community radio sector on each foundation DRMT licence.
1 A designated digital community radio broadcasting licensee is: a community radio broadcasting licensee who has been allocated a community radio broadcasting licence under Part 6 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992; and the licence area of the community radio broadcasting licence is the same as the licence area of a commercial radio broadcasting licence; and the community radio broadcasting service or services provided under the community radio broadcasting licence satisfy conditions set out in a legislative instrument made by the ACMA (there are currently no such legislative instruments in force).
In some cases a community radio broadcasting licensee may be a designated community radio broadcasting licensee if their licence area is deemed to be the same as the relevant commercial radio broadcasting licence area under s. 8AD of the BSA or under a determination made by the ACMA. The ACMA has made the Broadcasting Services (Deemed Digital Radio Licence Areas) Determination 2007.