Convergence is a term with many meanings. In the ACMA, convergence has been used primarily to reference the merging of the previously distinct services by which information is communicated-telephone, television (free-to-air and subscription) radio and newspapers-over digital platforms.
The ACMA has confronted a very challenging strategic environment since its inception. The ACMA was created squarely in the context of fundamental change and the pressures for change on the ACMA are constant and unremitting.
In a May 2011 speech titled The 'convergence phenomena' from a regulator's perspective [Download Word doc] ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman explained that the agency deals with the reality of convergence every day, making a layered series of observations about the reality of convergence, the pressures for change that are bearing down and the need to identify the underlying solutions to 'broken concepts'.
The rate of change is unprecedented and it is well recognised that the organisation must be vigilant and not take any aspect of relevance for granted. Critically, the changes wrought by convergence are not synchronised; they are neither uniform in pace nor consistent in their direction. At the same time, many stakeholders understandably want certainty.
Consequently, there is an ongoing need for balance as the ACMA goes about its work. On the one hand there are the requirements for stability, often expressed in terms such as 'predictability' and regulatory certainty, understandable concerns for existing businesses and sunk-money investments, the generation of new investment, persistent social values and support of a national identity. On the other there is the imperative to be responsive to the demands of the new, which surfaces in terms of innovation, new sources of value and wealth, new social behaviours and ways of expression, and global engagement.
Developments in communications technology are outpacing what was thought of as possible just five years ago, let alone what legislative frameworks considered would be required more than 10 years ago. Many of the controls on the production and distribution of content and the provision of telecommunications services through licensing or other subsidiary legislative arrangements, or by standards and codes (whether co-regulatory or self-regulatory) are subject to revision and adaptation to the digital economy. This should not be seen as a criticism of the legislation. It is the very nature of convergence that it often leads to unexpected developments, sometimes very rapidly. Moreover, there are new platforms, applications, business models, value chains and forms of social interaction available with more to come in what is a dynamic, innovative environment. Challenges for regulators include cross-jurisdictional issues and the need for engagement and collaboration with stakeholders locally, regionally and internationally. Therefore, not only does the ACMA inherently address a wide and disparate range of responsibilities, it does so against a backdrop of rapid and disruptive change.