Chris Chapman’s Speech
Speech to 2010 Australian Broadcasting Summit –v7.2 draft
23 March 2010
Current word count: 3485 words – approx 23 MINS.
The ACMA in 2010: (Another) Watershed Year in Communications and Media
We’re a quarter of the way through a watershed year in communications and media in Australia – how time flies in an industry that’s having fun! Is every year a watershed one … or am I just getting older?!
The ACMA started this year bedding down an important part of our ongoing transformation program – a new internal structure. This restructure was self-initiated. It was designed, and is now functioning, to bring focus to meeting several, sector-specific ‘today’ tasks, while maintaining our convergence orientation to a myriad of regulatory challenges and the eventual outcomes from this incessant dynamic. Notable among the specific ‘today’ tasks are our technical broadcasting focus on digital TV and radio, and the lens we apply to the telecommunications landscape (turbocharged as it will be by the NBN).
Slide 2a We are increasingly finding that our new structure is functioning as a useful platform from which the ACMA can pursue its strategic goals over the year. Inherent in our strategy development is the necessity for a capacity to manage the multiplicity of roles and tasks (and associated risks) that surround the ACMA, many of which we undoubtedly share with those in this room as multi-faceted corporate entities, others of which are particular to our role as an independent statutory regulatory body. I find there are many points of contact with the broadcast sector, ranging from practical day-to-day industry processes to issues of future significance.
In our ‘bread and butter’ day work, we need to ensure investigations into complaints made under broadcasting codes of practice are resolved within agreed timeframes (timeframes predominantly shaped by administrative law and natural justice considerations). The ACMA is aware of growing disquiet about the operation of the co-regulatory framework. It is a responsibility of us all to make sure processes under and outcomes from co-regulatory arrangements justify the privileged position they are afforded under the Broadcasting Services Act (which means, for the ACMA’s part, resourcing code reviews effectively and addressing current community concerns appropriately).
At a more general level, the ACMA must maintain the capacity to provide specialist advice on spectrum management, technical policy, and digital economy and cybersafety issues to government, industry and the general public. We also recognize the need to address the risk that consumers and/or industry could fail to benefit from new and emerging services if the ACMA is not able to develop clear and appropriate regulatory positions on emerging services. We therefore have a fundamental role in ensuring that the regulatory framework is appropriate to the structure of Australian industry, the nature of technological change and the competence and confidence of our consumers and citizens.
Slide 2b Importantly for this audience, elements of all these key exposures are reflected in Digital Television Switchover. With the objective of enhancing the ACMA support for the digital television transition, I created a Digital Transition Division as part of our restructure. Headed by Giles Tanner, the Digital Transition Division is designed to focus on what we see as work of critical importance to the ACMA reputation, and indeed to Australia at large, over the next few years.
This Division has carriage of all ACMA work related to the digitisation of television and radio broadcasting. It is also tasked with the realisation of the spectrum dividend from the cessation of analog services, including planning and running re-stacking exercises and auctions. So the division will coordinate the dual tasks of auctioning the digital dividend spectrum while assisting television broadcasters to re-stack their digital services following analog switch-off.
As well as handling these preparations, we also identified that there was obvious strong logic that the Division would take on the likely major auction processes for relevant spectrum from 15 year spectrum license expiry and for the 2.5 GHz band, a logic very recently confirmed by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in his AMTA speech.
Also at the beginning of the year, the Minister made two very significant announcements that reinforced the reality of a new era in communications services and broadcast media.
Slide 3 Firstly, when the Minister announced the release of the Government’s Digital Dividend Green Paper on 5 January, he formally started the process which will reap a social and economic dividend from digital television switchover.
Secondly, the Minister announced the Government will implement a satellite service to provide digital television to viewers in regional blackspot areas, putting in place the remaining policy plank for a successful digital television switchover Australia-wide by the end of 2013.
Over the next few years, the ACMA will continue its work developing the critical regulatory structures to faciltate the digital broadcasting future and, in doing so, freeing up significant tranches of spectrum equipping Australia to deal with the future of continuing rapid growth in wireless data demand. June this year marks the beginning of the end of analog television broadcasting when the analog television transmitters in Mildura are switched off, followed by Regional SA and Broken Hill in the second half of the year. Right now, we are working hard with the Digital Switchover Taskforce on the fine details of the first switchover to ensure that residents of the Mildura area will have access to enhanced television services after the switchover.
While the transition to digital TV is one of our major challenges, the ACMA has great breadth of engagement across the communications and media sector in an environment of constant change. In an observation I will come back to, successful digital reception is best seen as a transmission ‘chain’, culminating in the successful use of the technology by the viewer. The viewers in this situation also have a relevant persona in their characterisation as ‘citizens’, something recently emphasised by the Government as a focus for the whole Public Service.
Slide 4 Part of the ACMA strategic response to the dynamics of change in media and communications has been a refined focus on the role of the ‘citizen interest’. The ACMA considers that the concept of ‘citizen’ aligns well with the current idea of ‘public interest’ (as adopted by the Federal Government) and will be an invaluable touchstone in engaging with and responding to the regulatory imperatives of the emerging digital economy (which obviously includes digital broadcasting).
The ‘consumer’ relationship of the highly interactive world of telecommunications and the internet is primarily transactional. In the world of convergence, the mass audience of broadcast viewers and listeners is fragmenting and individuals increasingly engage in personal relations with broadcasters via SMS, web sites and the like. It might seem that all converged communications and media should be seen through this ‘consumer lens’. However, with their consumers engaged in content and communities, telcos and internet providers have been finding that citizen-oriented tools (classification, content access rules and the need to promote responsible media use) are increasingly relevant. The ‘citizen’ relationship is about broader and longer term engagement, rather than immediate trading. It is focused on mutual rights, responsibilities and obligations.
In my view, the time has been ripe over the last few years for a re-balancing to emphasise and acknowledge the role of the ‘citizen’ interest. The ACMA has moved to embed the concept of ‘citizen’ in its recently announced new structure and has considered the role of the citizen carefully in determining the ACMA’s strategic purpose as being ‘to make communications and media work in Australia’s public interest’.
In the final analysis, if the viewer / citizen doesn’t ‘get it’ – in both the literal and figurative sense of the phrase – then much of all of our efforts on matters digital will have been for nothing.
Today I will touch on in more detail some of the ACMA’s recent work in the area of digital television switchover and provide an overview of how we have been and will continue to work closely with broadcasting and other industries to move through a successful switchover and realise the digital dividend.
Recent ACMA activities
Slide 5 A foundation stone of the digital transition is that broadcasters’ free-to-air television digital television services should achieve the same level of coverage and potential reception quality as their corresponding analog services. For this reason, and because the ACMA is committed to being an evidence-informed regulator, we invest in a range of research and data analysis. It is critical that the ACMA have a firm understanding of the actual coverage of digital television services. TOWER
The transition to digital television will be seamless for many viewers, but may involve challenges for some. Understandably, there can be community concern associated with any significant technology change. Many in this audience will be aware that successful digital reception requires every ‘link’ in the transmission chain to be intact to avoid the ‘digital cliff’. These links include:
- adequate signal coverage;
- an appropriate antenna;
- the right cabling;
- a working receiver; and,
- last but not least, a viewer who is able to confidently, effectively use it.
As the nation’s spectrum planner, it is our job to ensure the channels planned are sufficient for broadcasters to provide adequate signal coverage. With its extensive field presence, the ACMA has also committed resources to evaluating actual television coverage on the ground – developing a factual basis for understanding the local details of television coverage, and the specific reception issues facing local communities.
Slide 6 Using a combination of computer modelling, an intensive program of field measurements and statistical and engineering analysis, the ACMA’s Coverage Evaluation Program allows us to keep the Government informed about digital television coverage with far greater confidence than previous approaches. In fact, I am told that the ACMA methodology (and the programs it generates) are world leading in terms of their rigour and the volumes of data being generated and analysed and are the reference point for countries following Australia in the digital TV transition in exploring new and innovative analysis and statistical techniques.
As a result of these efforts, the ACMA was able to report with a high degree of confidence that the same coverage objective has, in fact, been achieved in the populated areas of Mildura.
From the perspective of the ACMA, services in Mildura planned under the technical framework for digital television conversion are ready for switchover.
Slide 7 However, a successful digital switchover will require more than simply ensuring that the existing broadcaster-controlled analog services are replicated in digital. Many small communities are served by self-help facilities, or receive less than adequate analog television from faraway transmitters, or must rely on out-of-area satellite services for their free-to-air television. As I mentioned already, we are working hard on the fine technical details of the Mildura switchover, to ensure that channels are assigned for new services in Ouyen, near Mildura, and to support the smooth conversion of the Underbool analog self-help service to digital. In combination with the Government’s new satellite service, these new digital terrestrial services will mean that residents of the Mildura area will have access to enhanced television services after the switchover to digital (i.e. all the channels that ‘city slickers’ amongst us enjoy!).
Slide 8 Looking nationally, the rollout of digital television is now well-advanced. In metropolitan markets, broadcasters have commenced all services expected under the Television Conversion Schemes, while in regional markets, broadcasters have commenced 80% of services that are expected to be implemented under those conversion schemes.
The roll out of digital television in remote Australia provides unique challenges for both the ACMA and for broadcasters. The remote licence areas cover parts of Australia such as Western New South Wales, Western Queensland, and most of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, which are well beyond the major population centres.
The ACMA is working closely with remote commercial broadcasters – WIN, Prime, Southern Cross and Imparja – to ensure that digital services are rolled out, and analog services switched off, according to the Government’s timetable.
But, again, digital television is about more than spectrum engineering and channel planning. Over the past eighteen months, we have been working with broadcasters to enhance the reliability of Electronic Program Guides (EPGs).
Slide 9 EPGs are one of the significant benefits of digital television. An effective and accurate EPG offers viewers access to live information about program scheduling and classification, and is vital to the operation of personal video recorders. An accurate EPG is also important to the effective operation of the parental lock function, an important ‘citizen’ resource for family management of content … so the EPG enlivens both ‘consumer’ and ‘citizen’ considerations.
Slide 10 Parental lock is a feature of digital TVs and set top boxes that restricts children from watching a TV program of a certain classification – e.g. M or MA – without the correct PIN. Parental lock gives concerned parents another option for supervising television viewing at a time when the choice and breadth of television content will significantly increase. In February, the ACMA sought stakeholder input on a number of issues related to the mandating of a parental lock requirement. We expect to consolidate the results of feedback to that discussion paper and to determine a standard in about May.
ACMA future work program
Slide 11 As set out in the Government’s Green Paper on the digital dividend, it is desirable to clear contiguous spectrum to maximise its value to potential users. In order to create a contiguous block of spectrum at the top of the UHF band, the television services remaining after switchover will need to be re-organised. As everyone in this room would know, this process is known as restacking.
At present, television services are scattered from channel 0 at the bottom of the VHF band, through to channel 69 at the very top of the UHF band. Once analog simulcast channels are switched off, there will be significant amounts of clear spectrum throughout Australia. However, this clear spectrum will be scattered across the television channels, and will vary throughout Australia.
Slide 12 The ACMA’s next significant task in achieving a digital dividend will be to identify the new ‘restacked’ channels for digital services. This involves detailed engineering work, in consultation with broadcasters.
A first step will be to review, in consultation with the broadcasters, the technical assumptions that have underscored digital planning to date. Some of the fundamentals of these assumptions – for example, the size of the UHF digital dividend – will be provided to us by the Minister, but it will be up to broadcasters and the ACMA to thrash out the detail. The types of technical issues to consider might include: whether and, if so, in what circumstances should television services be re-tuned to maximise coverage of DAB+ digital radio sharing the VHF bands? One assumption that seems more or less certain will be to choose options that minimise where possible the impact of restacking on citizens / viewers (who at least will likely need to rescan channels on their digital receivers) and broadcasters.
The tasks for both ACMA and the broadcast industry will be challenging. It is clear this is not just a task for the remaining months of this financial year and that detailed, staged project planning is needed. Any plan will need to be developed in close consultation with the broadcast industry to ensure that it is capable of implementation. I am pleased to note that the ACMA’s engineering staff maintain strong working relationships with their industry counterparts to ensure that the planning and implementation of broadcasting services proceeds smoothly. Early issues for discussion will include the sequence in which we plan the new channels, and the sequence in which broadcasters implement them.
Under the processes set out in the Radiocommunications Act, the Minister will take the critical step of formally determining the size of the digital dividend following advice from the ACMA, which then develops technical frameworks to support future uses of that spectrum, and determines the method of allocation. For example, we consider whether we will auction it and if so, what auction method is suitable. We are well developed in our thinking around the auction methodologies to ensure that we will meet world’s best practice for spectrum allocations (and we plan to release an options paper on this within a year).
The ACMA’s view is that, if appropriate, the market determines the best of a number of possible uses of the digital dividend spectrum through the bidding process – the current review of our auction methodologies is substantially driven by our need to have the capacity, systems and know-how to deliver on this view.
As some of you should recall, about 2 years ago the ACMA adopted a Total Welfare Standard to guide its approach to regulation and allocation in communications and media generally. So, in some of the areas we regulate, an administrative or a modified market approach might be the way to go.
However, in the case of the digital dividend, the ACMA believes that an auction is the best way to achieve a spectrum allocation that both maximises the value of that spectrum to users and to society. In the dynamic and rapidly changing sectors most affected by the digital dividend, users have got to be much better placed than regulators to ascribe value and determine their willingness to pay for spectrum.
The ACMA considers that the market is likely to be much more effective than the regulator in achieving an efficient allocation of the digital dividend – or, in other words, achieving an allocation that maximizes the total welfare derived from use of the spectrum.
Certainly, many of the services that could be deployed using this spectrum may generate broader benefits to society, as well as private benefits to the producers and consumers of those services. For example, this is likely to be true of both broadcasting and mobile communications services. As part of any digital dividend allocation process, the ACMA intends to conduct extensive public consultations at each phase.
Slide 13 Of particular interest to this forum today is the future use of the 2.5 GHz band, which has been designated internationally for wireless access services but is currently used in Australia to provide vital electronic news gathering (or ENG) services.
The ACMA has taken as its starting point the need to plan and allocate this internationally (ie. a harmonised band) so as to allow it to move to its highest-value use, while also ensuring long-term provision is made for adequate spectrum to support ENG services – thus ending the current uncertainty for ENG operators.
2.5 GHz The release of the ACMA’s 2.5 GHz discussion paper in January was an important step in moving forward on both fronts. As many of you know, the ACMA’s preliminary view was that ENG operators would require continued access to a chunk of the 2.5 GHz band, as well as access to a number of alternative bands in order to have capacity for service delivery equivalent to that currently provided. ACMA staff are currently analysing the responses to this discussion paper.
As well as establishing technical working groups, there will be ongoing consultation with affected parties if any changes are made to the use of the 2.5 GHz band.
The evolving communications landscape
Slide 14 Much of what I’ve discussed today concerns the ACMA’s role in developing and facilitating the infrastructure that supports television and other communications services. But we never forget that this infrastructure is there to deliver content and services to the community, and through that, enhance citizen engagement. This is no better illustrated than in the case of the recently revised Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. Last December, we registered a revised Code of Practice developed by the commercial free-to-air television industry. One of the key drivers of a new code was the transition to digital television. The new code allows greater flexibility for broadcasters in programming for digital multi-channels. In registering the code, the ACMA ensured that industry introduced correspondingly strengthened community safeguards.
Slide 15 I started this speech with a reference to the ACMA restructure as part of the ongoing ACMA transformation program (about which I could happily speak at considerable length given time and opportunity). However I will conclude briefly by mentioning another important part of this transformation – rebuilding our ‘brand equity’. I want to draw attention to a stakeholder relevant aspect of the new ACMA brand, which is our external facing strap-line. This neatly sums up the approach of the ACMA, which is:
communicate | facilitate | regulate
The ACMA is more than a ‘regulator’ and I feel our work in the planning, allocation and management of the digital dividend is a perfect illustration of our work as a facilitator, an enabler. Realising this dividend is not primarily about technical improvement; it is about maintaining our economic competitiveness as a nation, about truly making communications and media work in Australia’s public interest. Parliament has entrusted us with the fundamental role of making spectrum work as a vital national, economic and increasingly social resource to enhance the lives of the citizen (the ‘average punter’ that, in the end, we all are).