Speech by Richard Bean, ACMA Deputy Chair, Australian Broadcasting Digital Media Summit, Sydney Feb 24 2014
(Check against delivery)
Firstly today I am going to describe how this year the ACMA has its sights set firmly on achieving outcomes, orienting our Corporate Plan specifically to that end. I will then comment on the achievement of a major outcome, one achieved collectively by all broadcasting stakeholders: the transition to digital terrestrial television. I will also update you on the final phase, the restack process. I will then canvass the outcomes delivered in our shortly to be released consolidated report from our Contemporary Community Safeguards inquiry (or CCSi). I will then turn to talk a little about our engagement with the ACMA red tape reduction activities and the government’s deregulation agenda, both of which sit very happily with the outcomes focus of our Corporate Plan. In keeping with the widened focus of this gathering to the Broadcasting Digital Media Summit, I will conclude with some remarks about our recent work in regard to mobile broadband spectrum.
As I said, the latest iteration of the ACMA Corporate Plan commits the ACMA to outcomes – in words and actions. Our executive team has taken a fresh approach to the Plan by casting our strategic goals for the next three years in terms of the public interest ‘outcomes’ we plan to achieve for industry and consumers, rather than as ‘outputs’, as we have done historically. Our goals in drafting this latest update of our plan were: firstly, to adapt to diminishing resources by a heightened focus on activities that directly drive our outcomes; secondly, to allow industry to take ownership of outcomes as much as possible; and thirdly, to signal the ACMA’s commitment to delivering on public interest outcomes whilst reducing costs and burdens on industry. One of our key areas of focus is to review regulation and reporting requirements and explore industry-based compliance strategies with the objective of removing unnecessary regulation, a focus which the outcomes basis and structure of this plan readily supports. I will return to this later in my remarks.
As a product of fundamental thinking about why we do what we do, the new approach is intended to further focus the ACMA by directing our energies and resources on outcomes that support our strategic intent, which is ‘to make media and communications work in Australia’s public interest’.
The ACMA shares with all industry players the need to work smarter and more collaboratively with our stakeholders. In many ways, our new Corporate Plan signals that the ACMA is raising the expectations on itself. A new set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are designed to make us more accountable and also makes clear the interdependency between industry performance and ACMA success. Each of the ACMA’s 5 Key Result Areas have formally stated Outcomes and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
I certainly invite you to examine the plan (you can find it on our web site, having been posted there in January) and I expect that many organisation represented here today will play a large part in helping us achieve the outcomes we have identified and deliver on the KPIs we have set ourselves.
While the focus of our planning is of course the future, I think it would be remiss of me not to pause to reflect upon a major collective outcome achieved by all of the broadcasting stakeholders - the transition to digital terrestrial television. This achievement sits in the domain of our Key Results Area (KRA) of Public resource management and relates specifically to our Outcome 2.1: Allocation and use of spectrum, which requires that the public benefit from the allocation and use of the radiofrequency spectrum be maximised.
I want to publicly congratulate the television broadcasting industry and our colleagues in the Department of Communications in completing the digital switchover so professionally and, in all of Australia’s unique circumstances, so expeditiously.
Television broadcasters rolled out 2341 digital transmitters serving 550 areas between January 2001 and December 2013. This compares with 1,580 broadcaster-operated analog transmitters serving 530 areas at the start of 2001. This difference can be mostly attributed to two things. Firstly, the number of services available in all areas has been equalised. Some areas that had access to just one or two analog commercial television services now have the full suite of digital services that are available in metropolitan areas. Secondly, commercial broadcasters took the initiative to improve their coverage by rolling out additional transmitter sites or to takeover some sites formerly run by councils. Councils and others such as community television licensees and narrowcasters have also rolled out a further 297 digital transmitters across 72 areas.
All these transmitters weren’t ever going to cover the whole of Australia and so a new Viewer Access Satellite Television service (or VAST), again with the full suite of services, was made available in 2010, to cover viewers in remote areas and other viewers with inadequate terrestrial coverage.
The staff of the ACMA and its predecessors played a substantial role in developing the digital channel plans and in cleverly slotting all those digital television services in between the already operating analog services without significant interference for the duration of the simulcast. The ACMA also took a practical look at coverage and over a three year period developed and implemented a coverage assessment and measurement program that resulted in over 168,000 measurements of digital and analog signals at 23,000 locations. Now that’s a serious investment.
Television services in most areas are now being organised into blocks of contiguous channels. As services are generally moving from higher to lower channels, as recommended by the industry itself, we coined the phrase ‘restack’ for this process. The use of block planning was a key principle that the ACMA got comfortable with and then adopted at the start of the restack planning process.
The restack planning has been a significant task, one completed in a compressed timeframe. In addition to identifying new channels for each service, it was important to identify the constraints that influence the order in which sites can restack, otherwise interference could result. Between May 2011 and March 2013, the ACMA produced 19 Television Licence Area Plans covering over 3,000 pre and post restack channels - as well as identifying capacity for one additional channel in each area.
This restack planning was a key enabler for Australia’s largest ever spectrum auction – and successfully conducted by the ACMA, with both the 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz bands put to the market. It is a matter of record that all three bidders—Optus Mobile, Telstra and TPG Internet—secured spectrum in the auction, resulting in total revenues of nearly $2 billion. We are very pleased to be able to say that the auction process itself ran seamlessly and resulted in the allocation of spectrum to the companies that valued it the most.
Building on the previous coverage assessment program, the ACMA is also undertaking work to assess the potential for changes in coverage resulting from restack.
The implementation of restack is well underway with Broadcast Australia as the restack program implementation manager. Together, they and the ACMA are collaborating with industry to expedite restack implementation by the end of this year. Taking into account the early restack work, restack implementation is about 17% complete with a little over 300 areas yet to have their transmission channels changed.
As they did with switchover, our colleagues at the Department of Communications are running an information campaign to advise viewers of the need to retune their televisions as each area restacks. Due to the different, site by site, nature of restack, the information campaign is more nuanced and locally targeted than the switchover campaign. More info can be found on the retune website.
Of course, the digital television transition was all about carriage, and the ACMA has a significant and enduring interest in the content side of the broadcast equation as well. An important ACMA Outcome we define in our Corporate Plan under our KRA of ‘Consumer, citizen and audience safeguards and standards is Broadcasting and community standards’, which requires that broadcasting regulation reflects community standards; citizens and audiences have appropriate avenues for complaint to hold broadcasters to account; and that there are high levels of compliance with broadcasting regulation so that the community’s confidence in the efficacy of broadcasting regulation is maintained.
Last year, we commenced a (small ‘i’) inquiry to explore and establish the matters that should be addressed in contemporary broadcasting codes of practice. The inquiry’s aim was to assess how contemporary codes of practice can be fit for purpose in a converging media environment.
As most of you here would well know, the Broadcasting Services Act contemplates that groups representing radio and television broadcasting licensees should develop codes that apply to the broadcasting operations in each of their specific sectors. Codes are developed in consultation with the ACMA, taking into account any relevant research conducted by the ACMA. The ACMA can only register a code if it is satisfied, among other things, that the relevant code provides appropriate community safeguards.
Each of those codes are individually reviewed from time to time on a sector by sector basis and the reviews result in incremental adjustments and changes. Like many things in life, incrementalism eventually can be equated with ‘sub-optimalism’. Specifically, in this context, the ACMA felt that, given the pace of social, technological and other changes relevant to the media landscape, it was time to conduct a holistic review of what appropriate community safeguards and, more particularly, appropriate contemporary community safeguards should look like.
Our disposition in conducting the inquiry was to produce guidance which is evidence-based and supportive of the minimum level of regulatory intervention necessary to achieve the adequate community (citizen) protection. It is important to note that there has been a number of examples in recent years where the ACMA has sought to deliver outcomes commensurate with the minimum level of regulatory intervention.
Importantly with respect to the CCSi initiative specifically, our intention was not that the inquiry replace in any way individual code reviews. It was designed as a separate exercise to inform these reviews as and when they take place.
We judge that the inquiry has made excellent progress. While at the outset, we had expected it to culminate in specific guidelines for future codes of practice reviews, as we have reflected on broader policy processes in train with respect to broadcasting regulation in Australia, we have decided that a consolidation of the work to date will suffice and that further work can well be deferred.
Shortly, we will publish a Consolidated Report providing a high-level overview of the directions emerging from the inquiry, together with associated consultation and what we feel will be very useful research findings.
Formal consultation for the inquiry undertaken in June and July 2013 commenced with the release of an ACMA Issues paper which elicited some 55 submissions from citizens, industry stakeholders, the advertising sector, government and public advocacy organisations. Informal consultation also occurred via social media interactions which attracted more than 500 comments and mentions.
To further inform the inquiry, during the consultation period for the Issues paper we held seven Citizen Conversations that attracted 367 registrations with hundreds of online views recorded through live streaming of the forums. The conversations related to classification, decency, accuracy, fairness, advertising and privacy. These featured contributions from citizens and consumers, industry representatives and industry groups, academics, researchers and consumer groups. The ACMA also hosted an industry-only workshop on complaints handling.
The ACMA also commissioned GfK Australia to conduct qualitative and quantitative community research with Australians aged 15 years and over. This community research explored community attitudes, experiences and expectations of content broadcast on television and radio. It was designed to complement and supplement existing data published by both the ACMA and others.
The various contributions to the inquiry suggest a high-level of consensus about the enduring concepts and confirm core matters that might be reflected in contemporary broadcasting codes under the current co-regulatory constructs. These concepts and matters are strongly correlated with those areas the Act says that broadcasting codes may address.
To advance the understanding and evidence base around the market for content in Australia, the financial performance of the commercial television and radio sectors and the financial impact of the current codes of practice on those sectors, the ACMA also commissioned PwC to undertake economic research. We also conducted similar economic research in relation to the subscription broadcast television and community broadcasting sectors.
It’s not appropriate to go into the detail today about the core matters around which consensus emerged, nor the implications from the financial impact of certain current industry obligations. Suffice it to say, it is our view that the evidence captured in the Consolidated Report can usefully and immediately inform the broader conversation about the future of broadcasting regulation in Australia as well as a number of industry code reviews that are due to be undertaken later this year.
It is reasonable to say that contemporary community safeguards should continue to enable public interest considerations to be addressed in a way that does not impose unnecessary financial and administrative burdens on broadcasting service providers. It is also apparent that these safeguards will need to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate a changing media environment, an environment that is being radically transformed by that mega-platform – the internet.
I recently caught up with a speech given in November by our Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to the Business Influential Series seminar with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen who coined the phrase ‘disruptive innovation’. The Minister, in introducing Professor Christensen, linked the red-tape reduction program to the necessity of innovation, saying:
"… the regulatory framework that underpins the communications sector, for example, was formed in another era when technologies and business models were relatively stable … that context has completely changed, and so we're taking a first principles look again at regulation in the communication sector to see if the policy objectives behind it are still valid and if it still serves a useful purpose, and if not, the regulation should go."
As the ACMA wholeheartedly agrees with the Minister … and has consistently highlighted the inadequacies, the broken concepts, which underpin a number of key pieces of legislation it may be useful if I provide some of the broader context within which the ACMA is implementing the government’s deregulation agenda, before speaking more specifically about the activities the ACMA is planning to undertake.
In July last year, the Coalition released a policy to ‘Boost Productivity and Reduce Regulation’, which included the commitment to ‘reduce the red and green tape cost burden imposed on the Australian economy by $1 billion per year’. The months since the election have seen both whole-of-government and portfolio-specific work to implement this policy.
Whole-of-government initiatives include the announcement of the government’s first repeal day on March 26. The intention is to introduce a large amount of red-tape legislation for repeal. The ACMA is contributing to this bill.
Whole-of-government processes to support deregulatory activity include new requirements for agencies to quantify the cost of regulatory burden of new or amended regulations and identify reductions in regulatory burden to offset these costs. These whole-of-government measures apply to the ACMA, along with every other government agency.
The ACMA has welcomed the government’s initiative to deliver reform through better regulation and we think the reform agenda is particularly timely for the media and communications sector. The changes being driven by converging technologies have created a pressing need to assess the appropriateness of current regulations and we are taking this as perhaps a unique opportunity to increase our focus on identifying and pursuing measures to reduce regulatory burden, and a further spur to our outcomes-based planning.
The Minister’s de-regulatory framing paper to industry provides some useful guidance in thinking about what the government’s deregulation agenda might mean for the communications sector. It points to three high level issues for us to consider:
- How appropriate is the current communications regulatory framework for a converged communications environment?
- What enduring principles and concepts might underpin communications policy and regulation into the future?
- What regulatory tools are suitable for government to use in supporting enduring outcomes for the Australian community?
The Minister has made clear his intention that reductions in costs and burdens on industry will be achieved in the context of maintaining necessary consumer protections and other safeguards. Where implementation of deregulatory measures involves the ACMA considering the removal, simplification or other changes to existing regulation, our decision-making process will continue to be undertaken in the context of our statutory obligations, and on the basis of a comprehensive risk assessment with careful examination of the impact of any proposed change.
In terms of work being undertaken by the ACMA, we are actively identifying areas where we can directly reduce overly burdensome regulation in the short to medium term. As some of you have may have noticed, our own minister, Malcolm Turnbull, last week publicly noted that our Chairman, Chris Chapman has embraced de-regulation with a passion. We are also contributing our evidence base and experience towards longer term reform processes that are being considered by the Department, which is leading a coordinated portfolio response to implementing the government’s deregulation policies in the communications sector.
The ACMA has already identified early opportunities for reform including:
- Process improvements to reduce the costs to industry in dealing with the ACMA on licence and other resource allocation issues;
- Removing redundant and spent regulatory provisions;
- Working with Communications Alliance in a review to streamline telecommunications customer information provision requirements; and
- Undertaking a stocktake of existing regulation.
This work program builds on a number of recent ACMA initiatives which include reduced red tape relating to identity checks for prepaid mobile phones and revocation of no longer efficient regulation of premium telephone services offered on 190 numbers.
I would venture that the ACMA’s approach to regulation has always been light touch, evidence-informed and philosophically opposed to regulation for its own sake. As our tagline suggests, we communicate, facilitate and then, if all else fails, regulate, to ensure outcomes are cost-effective and fit-for-purpose.
We sketched the future for such a regulatory framework in Connected citizens: A regulatory strategy for the networked society and information economy, which we published in June 2013. In this paper we discussed the need for the regulator to be flexible and rapidly adaptive to changing industry circumstances. This approach inherently considers the regulator as a network agent, seeking influence rather than control. Adopting the ‘outcomes’ approach in our most recent Corporate Plan is intended to further drive this agenda of responsiveness to contemporary industry and market realities.
Once again I was struck by the alignment with Minister Turnbull’s innovation address which I mentioned previously. Minister Turnbull noted:
"… the key feature of the times in which we live is volatility. Unpredictable change. And the answer to that is that you have to be … in my judgement, at all times nimble."
I note that this them of nimble adjustment to change actually also aligns with the reworked theme of this conference which has been, as I note from the organisers own literature, "revamped and updated for the multi-platform digital age" as the Broadcasting Digital Media Summit.
Spectrum, a core ACMA responsibility, does not just facilitate communication; with digitalization it has changed the very concept of communication – how we interact with the world around us. While being one of the great enablers of the 21st century, to use Christensen’s phrase it is also a source of ‘disruptive innovation’ and thereby demands nimble responses from all players.
One of the tools we consistently use at the ACMA to help us stay agile has been our first-principles based focus on being evidence-informed in our activities. In discussing our CCSi outcomes, I described how community and economic research played an important part of our evidence gathering. So too in the case of spectrum.
As we mentioned at the ACMA Radcomms 2013 conference in October last year, the ACMA has been doing research work which will contribute to our aim of enabling Australian society to reap the benefits of the digital age. The final report to the ACMA of this project is expected to be released before Easter, and I urge you to keep an eye out for it.
Early figures indicate that mobile broadband is already having a significant impact on the Australian economy, and is likely to do so into the future. Through the direct impact of the mobile industry ecosystem, and the indirect role that mobile technologies play for business and households, mobile broadband is an example of how spectrum can be used for substantial public benefit.
Users have reaped the benefits of faster broadband speeds, cheaper handsets and greater competition in the communications market. This increased usage of mobile broadband technologies has led to an even greater demand for its key ingredient – spectrum – which has in turn increased its commercial value. In their preliminary form, our survey results confirm positive – and, in some cases, the revolutionary – impacts of mobile broadband on the business community.
We acknowledge that future mobile broadband services are not the only ‘game in town’ and the clear need to take into account the needs of incumbent services together with those vital passive and sensing uses of spectrum.
As the regulator, we can’t and don’t seek to avoid the fact that many of the issues we deal with are often contentious – indeed, it is a core part of the ACMA role to independently mediate these divergent interests and deliver outcomes that maximise the overall Australian public benefit – that is and will be our abiding focus.
Thanks for your attention today.