About retransmission services
Terrestrial retransmission services are provided in areas where broadcasters have not established transmitters or where the signals from broadcasting transmitters serving the area are not adequate. They are typically provided by self-help providers in remote communities, small regional communities and black-spots.
Self-help providers include councils, mining companies and local community organisations. These organisations supply their own infrastructure to retransmit commercial and/or national television service to their local areas.
As part of the digital switchover, the Australian Government has funded the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) platform. VAST ensures that all areas not receiving a full suite of commercial and national digital television services via terrestrial means can do so through a direct-to-home satellite service. In addition, a number of existing terrestrial analog retransmission services have been, or will be, upgraded to digital, and in some cases new retransmission services established, by commercial and national broadcasters. However, self-help providers still have the option to upgrade existing sites to digital at their own cost, or to establish new sites to provide retransmission services in digital where no such service was provided in analog mode.
Under section 212 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), retransmission services that do no more than retransmit programs that are transmitted by a national, commercial or community broadcasting service, or by National Indigenous TV Limited, are not subject to the regulatory regime under the BSA.
The retransmission of programs transmitted by commercial and community broadcasting licensees can be:
- within the licence area of that licensee
- outside the licence of that licensee, with the written permission of the ACMA.
Who can apply?
There is no restriction on who can apply to provide retransmission services. However, it is expected that most applicants would be self-help providers, as defined in section 212A of the BSA. Self-help providers include particular entities providing retransmission services for the sole or principal purpose of obtaining or improving reception within certain communities or places, including:
- non-profit bodies;
- local government bodies;
- mining companies in a isolated locations;
- petroleum, oil or gas companies in isolated locations;
- persons retransmitting within particular buildings or structures; and
- persons retransmitting within one or more places all in the same area.
Applications to retransmit services in digital mode from entities that are not self-help providers (e.g. individuals, other community groups) will be considered on a case by case basis.
NOTE: Only self-help providers are exempt from copyright obligations under the Copyright Act 1968.
Authorisation of self-help retransmission services
The ACMA authorises self-help retransmission services by making a spectrum determination (often called a "drop through") under section 34 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) and then issuing apparatus licences to authorise the transmitters under section 100 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992.
In considering applications from self-help providers, the ACMA will take into account whether the viewer experience from the digital television retransmitted services will be substantially the same as from a broadcaster-provided service.
Essentially, this entails self-help providers retransmitting all associated terrestrial services that are not otherwise available terrestrially to the viewer. Where broadcasters are not providing any digital television services terrestrially in a location, the self help provider would be expected to retransmit the full suite of available services. Where broadcasters are providing one or more, but not all, digital television services in a location, the self-help provider would only be required to provide the 'missing' services. (For example, if all the services from three commercial networks and the ABC are already available terrestrially in the area, the self-help provider would only need to retransmit the 'missing' SBS service, although requests to provide additional services would be considered on a case-by-case basis.)
Importantly, providing the same viewer experience as a broadcaster-provided service will require the transmission of service information, such as electronic program guides, channel numbers and closed captioning.
The ACMA has developed guidelines which outline matters that will assist the ACMA in determining whether the proposed retransmission service will be substantially the same as from a broadcaster-provided service. The guidelines will apply to the ACMA's consideration of whether to make spectrum available for retransmission services under section 34 of the BSA. The ACMA may also impose specific conditions on apparatus licences issued for self-help retransmission services which support this objective. These are detailed below.
Where an application is to retransmit commercial television services outside the licence area of that commercial television service, the ACMA will have regard to a number of addition matters. These are also detailed below.
As a result of the impending switch off of analog television broadcasting services, the ACMA is unlikely to approve new requests from self-help providers seeking to provide re-transmission services in analog mode.
NOTE: The apparatus licences issued by the ACMA authorise the use of the spectrum for the provision of digital retransmission services within the conditions imposed on the licences. The act of issuing the licences doesn’t guarantee access to other elements necessary to provide a retransmission service (e.g. access to the site, tower, power or program content). To access program content for retransmission services in central and eastern Australia sourced from the VAST satellite feed, self-help providers will need to seek authorisation from Eastern Australia Satellite Broadcasters (EASB). Self-help providers in Western Australia will need to seek authorisation from WA Satco. EASB can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guidelines for the assessment of applications
In deciding whether to make spectrum available to a self-help retransmission applicant under section 34 of the BSA, the ACMA will have regard to the following matters, among others:
- Whether the spectrum will be used to ensure that all available commercial and national digital television services in the relevant licence area are available to viewers in the area intended to be served by the applicant. (Where a digital terrestrial service is already otherwise available terrestrially it will not need to be provided, but requests to do so will be considered on a case by case basis).
- Whether use of the spectrum will comply with certain technical specifications, including whether:
- services will be provided in the same definition (for example, HD or SD) as the source service
- in the case where digital retransmission services are replacing analog retransmission services, the coverage of the digital retransmission services are largely equivalent to the coverage of the analog services
- the service information is properly constructed with the objective that the transmitted services should have the same 'look and feel' as broadcaster-provided services; this should include provision of EPGs, program classification information, captioning, Now/Next, logical channel numbering (in accordance with the applicable standard or operating practice) and time and date table and time offset table.
- Any other matter the ACMA considers relevant.
Following the making of a determination under section 34 of the BSA, the ACMA may issue one or more transmitter licences to an applicant. In addition to the general conditions applying to apparatus licences, the following specific conditions may be imposed, requiring that:
- services be provided in the same definition (e.g. HD or SD) as the source service
- that an EPG is available
- that service information include the following:
- program classification information
- logical channel numbering (in accordance with the applicable standard or operating practice)
- Time and Date Table and Time Offset Table.
Self-help retransmission service providers will also be required to acknowledge two significant areas of potential risk. The first relates to the possible need for self-help providers to change channel allocations if required under the restack process. Restack is the process of moving digital television services from the digital dividend band to non-dividend spectrum to free up the digital dividend spectrum for reallocation.
While the ACMA will seek to avoid or minimise the need for subsequent changes to channels used for retransmission services, self-help providers will be expected to acknowledge that they understand the risk and may be required to retune a self-help service at their own expense. For example, costs may be incurred as a result of having to retune or replace the transmitter, combiner, antenna or associated equipment.
The second potential risk relates to the use of professional decoders to receive VAST to feed terrestrial retransmission sites. These decoders may not automatically respond to changes made to the satellite platform that affect VAST. Consequently, any such changes could have a significant impact on the retransmission services, in terms of both time and cost for the self-help provider. The ACMA will also expect self-help providers to acknowledge that they understand this risk and that they may be required to respond to changes made to the VAST satellite platform at their own expense.
Additional matters for the retransmission of commercial television services outside licence areas
The ACMA expects only a small number of applications from self-help providers wishing to retransmit commercial television broadcasting services outside the licence area of that commercial television service. This may happen where, for example, a self-help provider wishes to retransmit a terrestrial commercial television service from a metropolitan licence area in a town in a neighbouring regional licence area, or a commercial television broadcasting service from a regional commercial television licence area in a town in neighbouring remote licence area. There may be a number of reasons for wanting to do this, including that the town shares a community of interest with a neighbouring licence area, or perhaps the cost of retransmitting programs sourced from an terrestrial off-air feed is more cost effective than other methods.
In addition to matters set out in the guidelines above, the ACMA will have regard to the following additional matters when assessing these applications:
- whether there is an existing out-of-area retransmission in analog mode for which the ACMA previously granted permission;
- the opinion of the in-area commercial broadcasters and any impact that the retransmission would have on those broadcasters, including on the viability of the service;
- whether there is a community of interest between the target audience of the source feed and the audience of the proposed retransmission (note that an existing analog out-of-area retransmission could represent a prima facie evidence of a community of interest, otherwise additional evidence may have to be provided by the applicant);
- the technical and cost feasibility of alternative options for providing commercial television services to audiences (e.g. DTH VAST services; VAST-fed retransmission) compared to the out-of-area proposal; and
- any existing sunk-costs invested by the self-help provider (eg the Council) for the provision of an analog out-of-area retransmission that would be affected by the outcome of the decision.
Licensed digital self-help retransmissions
A list of digital self-help retransmission licensees is available.
Compliance and enforcement
The ACMA is concerned to ensure compliance with the guidelines and licence conditions and will investigate reports of non-compliance. Enforcement options available to the ACMA included warning notices, infringement (penalty) notices and prosecution.
How to apply
Complete ACMA Form B84 and fax, email or mail to the ACMA.
Successful applicants are required to pay a transmitter licence tax.
Broadcast Carriage Policy Section
Australian Communications and Media Authority
PO Box 78
BELCONNEN ACT 2616
Fax: (02) 6219 5347
Phone: 1300 850 115
Last updated: 21 December 2015 to reflect the removal by the ACMA on 26 November 2015 of the special condition that required services be retransmitted in the MPEG-2 format.