Types of broadcasting licence | ACMA

Types of broadcasting licence

Broadcasting licences are issued by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) to authorise the transmission of television and radio programs to the public. They do not cover the use of satellites. This page describes the many types of broadcast licences and how they operate.

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    Regulatory framework

    The ACMA is responsible for regulating the broadcasting industry, including licensing, programming and ownership and control of broadcasting services.

    The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA) and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) give the ACMA legal authority to regulate broadcasting services that use the radiofrequency spectrum.

    Under the BSA, the ACMA plans the broadcasting services bands for community, commercial and national radio and television services.

    Under the Act, the ACMA is responsible for regulating the use of the radiofrequency spectrum in Australia. The operation of all radiocommunications transmitters, including broadcasting transmitters, in Australia must be authorised by a licence issued under the Act.

    What is a broadcasting licence?

    A broadcasting licence authorises the operation of transmitters used for broadcasting programs and engineering tests for stations intended to be used to broadcast television or radio programs.

    Broadcasting licences do not cover:

    1. a service (including a teletext service) that provides no more than data, or no more than text, with or without associated images

    2. a service that makes a program available on demand on a point to point basis (this includes dial up services)

    3. a service that is determined by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, by notice in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, not to be a broadcasting service within the meaning of the BSA.

    The broadcasting licence type is defined in the Radiocommunications (Interpretation) Determination 2015.

    Broadcasting services bands

    Stations authorised under broadcasting licences may operate in the broadcasting service bands. Subject to certain conditions, you may be allowed to operate outside the broadcasting services bands.

    The broadcasting services bands are:

    AM Radio

    526.5 to 1606.5 kHz (inclusive)

    FM Radio

    87.5 to 108 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channel 0

    45 to 52 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channels 1 and 2

    56 to 70 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channel 3

    85 to 92 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channels 4 and 5

    94 to 108 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channel 5A

    137 to 144 MHz (inclusive)

    VHF television channels 6 to 12

    174 to 230 MHz (inclusive)

    UHF television channels 28 to 69

    526 to 820 MHz (inclusive)

    Licensing options

    There are six licensing options for broadcasting licences:

    1. Broadcast service station;

    2. Narrowcasting service station;

    3. Narrowband area service station;

    4. HF domestic service station;

    5. HF overseas service station; and

    6. HF overseas (IBL) service station.

    Broadcast service station

    Community, commercial and national services

    Community, commercial and national broadcasting services are defined in the BSA and operate in the broadcasting services bands. If your service does not operate in the broadcasting services bands, it may operate under a broadcasting licence authorising narrowband area service stations.

    Under the BSA, the ACMA plans and regulates community, commercial and national radio and television services in the broadcasting services bands. Under the Act, the ACMA assigns spectrum to broadcasting services operating outside the broadcasting services bands.

    Community and commercial radio and television services must have a broadcasting services licence from the ACMA before beginning transmission, regardless of the bands in which they intend to operate, even if they use cable or satellite as a means of delivery.

    National broadcasting services are Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio and television services, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) radio and television services and the Parliamentary and News Network of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. New national services transmission facilities are established by Broadcast Australia in accordance with Government priorities. Broadcast Australia also maintains and operates established transmission facilities for national services.

    Relevant frequency assignments are printed on your licence.

    Temporary community broadcasting licences

    Under the BSA, the ACMA is able to allocate temporary community broadcasting licences (TCBLs) in the broadcasting services bands.

    TCBLs allow for a flexible temporary licensing regime that, where spectrum is available, provides greater access to broadcasting air-time for most aspirant community broadcasters.

    In addition to the TCBL issued under the BSA, you will require a broadcasting licence in order to transmit community television services. TCBLs may be granted for a period up to 12 months.

    Relevant frequency assignments are printed on the licence.

    Narrowcasting service station

    Broadcasting licences authorise stations to transmit an open narrowcasting service or subscription narrowcasting service as defined in the BSA and operating in the broadcasting services bands.

    Licences for higher power open and subscription narrowcasting services are usually auctioned by the ACMA.

    Broadcasting licences authorising low power open narrowcasting (LPON) services are issued by the ACMA for operation within the FM radio sub-band 87.5 - 88.0 MHz. Broadcasting licences authorising these narrowcasting service stations are allocated using an auction process.

    Relevant frequency assignments are printed on the licence.

    Narrowband area service station

    Broadcasting licences authorise narrowband area service (NAS) stations to transmit one-way radio transmission to at least four NAS receivers and use a bandwidth not exceeding 4 MHz. These services operate outside the broadcasting services bands.

    Broadcasting licences authorising NAS stations outside the broadcasting services bands are allocated by the ACMA on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Relevant frequency assignments are printed on the licence.

    New limitations have been placed on NAS station licences, detailed in the narrowband area service stations information paper.

    High frequency (HF) broadcasting stations

    HF broadcasting is designed to provide either a domestic service within Australia and its territories, or an overseas service, in the HF bands.

    In December 2000, the Act and the BSA, were amended to enable non-national broadcasters to provide an HF broadcasting service. The legislative changes were specifically designed so that HF international broadcasters undergo a vetting process involving both the ACMA and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The successful outcome of this vetting process would be an international broadcasting licence (IBL) issued under the BSA.

    The ACMA has developed three licensing options in the broadcasting licence type to accommodate HF broadcasting.

    HF overseas (IBL) service station

    Authorises the operation of HF overseas (IBL) service station(s) in the frequency range 5.9 MHz to 26.1 MHz, operated by non-national broadcasters for providing international broadcasting services. An international broadcasting licence (IBL) must be in force authorising the operation of the international broadcasting service.

    HF overseas service station

    Authorises the operation of HF overseas service station(s) in the frequency range 5.9 MHz to 26.1 MHz for the purpose of providing broadcasting services to overseas locations.

    This licensing option is only used to authorise HF overseas service station(s) operated by the ABC and the SBS and other 'exempt broadcasting' services (as defined in the BSA). You do not need to hold an IBL for this option.

    HF domestic service station

    Authorises the operation of HF domestic service station(s) within Australia and its territories in the frequency range 2.3 MHz to 26.1 MHz.

    An IBL may be required if your broadcasting service is significantly targeted to audiences outside Australia. That would require you to also be licensed under the appropriate overseas licensing option.

    Spectrum use

    International high frequency broadcasting uses the frequency range 5.9 MHz to 26.1 MHz. Frequency assignment within this frequency range is subject to Article S12 of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Radio Regulations. Assignments in bands shared with non-broadcasting services must be coordinated by the ACMA.

    Table 1 - Bands that may be used for HF international broadcasting

    Frequency rangeShared Bands (kHz)

    Frequency rangeNon shared Bands (kHz)

    5 900 - 5 950

    5 950 - 6 200

    7 300 - 7 350

    7 100 - 7 300

    9 400 - 9 500

    9 500 - 9 900

    11 600 - 11 650

    11 650 - 12 050

    12 050 - 12 100

    13 600 - 13 800

    13 570 - 13600

    15 100 - 15 600

    13 800 - 13 870

    17 550 - 17 900

    15 600 - 15 800

    21 450 - 21 850

    17 480 - 17 550

    25 670 - 26 100

    18 900 - 19 020

    -

    For more detailed information, see the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan.

    Domestic HF broadcasting services may also use the frequency range in Table 2. Services in these bands are not subject to Article S12 of the ITU Radio Regulations, although they are subject to frequency coordination by the ACMA.

    Table 2 - Bands that may be used for HF domestic broadcasting

    Frequency range (kHz)

    2 300 - 2 495

    3 200 - 3 400

    3 950 - 4 000

    4 750 - 4 995

    5 005 - 5 060

    International broadcasting licence (IBL)

    Broadcast must hold an IBL for every international broadcasting service they operate before a transmitter apparatus licence will be issued.

    Applications for IBLs must be made to the ACMA.

    Nominated broadcaster declarations

    Nominated broadcaster declarations may be issued by the ACMA in circumstances where IBLs and the associated apparatus licences are held by different people. The holder of the apparatus licence is declared not to be the provider of the international broadcasting service and the holder of the IBL is declared not to operate the transmitter.

    Content providers will still need to obtain an IBL before the ACMA can issue the related apparatus licence.

    Applications for a nominated broadcaster declaration must be made to the ACMA.

    Provisional international broadcasting certificates

    Provisional international broadcasting certificates are issued by the ACMA to anyone proposing to make an application for a transmitter licence for transmitting an international broadcasting service.

    Provisional international broadcasting certificates are intended to provide you with some certainty of obtaining a transmitter licence for an international broadcasting service, once all the necessary conditions have been fulfilled.

    A provisional international broadcasting certificate remains in force for 240 days from the date of issue.

    Provisional international broadcasting certificates, in accordance with section 131AF of the Act, state that the ACMA will issue a transmitter licence for an international broadcasting service if:

    1. you apply for the transmitter licence when the certificate is valid

    2. you hold a valid international broadcasting licence that authorises your international broadcasting service

    3. spectrum is available for your service

    4. you meet any other conditions specified in the certificate.

    Licence conditions

    The operation of radiocommunications equipment authorised by a broadcasting licence is subject to:

    1. conditions specified in the Act, including an obligation to comply with the Act

    2. a condition that any radiocommunication device operated under the licence must comply with all the standards applicable to it

    3. conditions specified in the Radiocommunications Licence Condition (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2015 and any other determinations made by the ACMA under section 107(1)(f) of the Act

    4. in respect of TCBLs, conditions specified in a determination made by the ACMA under section 108A of the Act

    5. conditions specified in the licence and

    6. any further conditions imposed by the ACMA under section 111 of the Act. Generally, conditions are applied to licences to enable users to communicate effectively with a minimum of interference. All conditions relating to a licence must be complied with.

    Licensees are also required to comply with the provisions of the BSA. The technical planning guidelines and licence conditions relating to program standards, codes of practice and advertisements are administered by the ACMA under the BSA.

    Licence conditions determinations

    At any time, the ACMA may write further apparatus licence conditions known as Licence Conditions Determinations (LCDs).

    The Radiocommunications Licence Condition (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2015 (the Apparatus LCD) contains conditions that are common to all apparatus licences.

    The Apparatus LCD came into effect on 1 March 2003 and applies to national, narrowcasting (including LPON services), and NAS services operating under broadcasting licences. The Apparatus LCD provides that you may only operate a radiocommunications transmitter under certain circumstances.

    Licensees of community and commercial broadcasting services must comply with Section 4 of Part 1 and Parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Apparatus LCD as required in a special condition on their apparatus licences issued under sections 102 and 102A of the Act.

    The Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Broadcasting Licence) Determination 2015 (the Broadcasting LCD) includes conditions relating to types of use, interference provisions and associated technical restrictions such as modulation, power and bandwidth.

    Licensees of community and commercial broadcasting services must comply with Parts 1 and 2 of the Broadcasting LCD.

    The conditions for temporary community broadcasting licences are in the Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Temporary Community Broadcasting Licence) Determination 2015.

    An advisory note is automatically attached to licences where an LCD is in force. The note will advise of the applicable LCD.

    The licence conditions imposed through the relevant LCD may change from time to time. Licensees should ensure that they keep aware of the current conditions imposed by the ACMA.

    Special conditions

    Any other operation conditions which apply to individual licences but are not included in the LCD, will be printed on your licence under the heading 'Special Conditions'.

    An accredited person may ask the ACMA to impose one or more special conditions on your licence depending on your frequency assignments.

    Advisory notes

    Advisory notes providing information that may be of interest to a licensee will be printed on the licence under the heading 'Advisory Notes'.

    An accredited person may ask the ACMA to impose one or more advisory notes on your licence depending on your frequency assignments.

    Call signs

    Call signs are a unique series of letters and/or numbers allocated to a radiocommunications user to identify a station. Broadcasting station call signs are issued by the ACMA.

    Duration

    Apparatus licences are issued for any period from one day to five years. Licences for services in the broadcasting services bands cannot be issued beyond the period spectrum is made available by the ACMA. This particularly affects narrowcasting service stations. A broadcasting licence authorising a narrowcasting service station may only operate while spectrum is made available to it by the ACMA under section 34 of the BSA.

    Broadcast licences authorising broadcast service stations for the transmission of community and commercial radio and television services are only in effect while the broadcasting service licence, issued under the BSA, is in effect.

    Applying for an apparatus licence

    Applications for an apparatus licence may be made to Radiocommunications Licensing and Assignments.

    Applicants should complete the ACMA B12 form.

    Licence fees

    Spectrum is a valuable resource. Fees are intended to ensure a fair return to the Commonwealth for the private use of this valuable public resource.

    Licence fees are determined by spectrum location, geographical location, amount of spectrum occupied, and the coverage area authorised by your licence. Detailed information about fees is in the Apparatus Licence Fee Schedule.

    You may be eligible for an exemption or concession from licence fees. For further information, see Licence Fee Exemptions and Concessions.

    Transfers of apparatus licences

    If you want to transfer an apparatus licence, you should complete and submit to the ACMA the form, Application for Transfer of Apparatus Licence(s) (R060). Both the transferer and the transferee must sign the transfer form. You will be required to pay a transfer charge to cover ACMA's administrative expenses.

    There are a number of limitations on the transfer of apparatus licences, which are specified in the Radiocommunications (Limitation of Authorisations of Third Party users and Transfer of Apparatus Licences) Determination 2015.

    A device authorised by the transferred licence must operate under the same technical conditions (included transmission site) specified on the original licence.

    Apparatus licence authorising the transmission of an international broadcasting service cannot be transferred except to someone who holds a current IBL in relation to the proposed international broadcasting service.

    Apparatus licences issued to the ABC or the SBS authorising transmission of a HF overseas service station in the frequency range 2.3 MHz to 26.1 MHz cannot be transferred except to the ABC or the SBS.

    Apparatus licences issued to an exempt broadcasting service authorising transmission of HF overseas service stations cannot be transferred except to a similarly exempt broadcasting service.

    Third party operation

    You may authorise in writing other persons to operate radiocommunications devices under your apparatus licences. These are known as third party authorisations.

    There are limitations on third party authorisations, which are specified in the Radiocommunications (Limitation of Authorisation of Third Party Users and Transfer of Apparatus Licences) Determination 2015.

    Anyone authorised to use a radiocommunications device under a third party authorisation must comply with all of the licence conditions for that device.

    Further information

    If you have additional queries relating to this, or any, licence type, please contact Radiocommunications Licensing and Telecommunications Deployment.

    If you have queries about reception of national broadcasting services, please contact Broadcast Australia on (02) 6256 8000.

    If you have queries about national radio or television programs, please contact the ABC or the SBS

    Last updated: 22 November 2017