18 May 1999
Ramin Communications welcomes the opportunity to provide input into the Productivity Commission's timely examination of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and other broadcasting related legislation. Ramin Communications provides Information Technology Services, specialising in the application of the Internet.
The Internet and the development of Digital Radio Telecommunications has undermined the foundation of the current broadcasting regime. The Internet has greater potential in
The recently proposed amendments to the broadcasting legislation, which attempt to censor Internet Content at a national level, further demonstrated the shortcomings of the current regulatory framework (2). The proposed amendments showed scant appreciation of the diverse and dynamic nature of information flow made possible by the Internet and global telecommunications.
The distinction between broadcasting and telecommunication has been blurred by the development of wireless digital technologies. Telecommunications providers are potentially able to deliver TV & Radio like services through stationary technologies such as LMDS (3) and in all likelihood through new GSM and CDMA services. Other Uses of the Radio Spectrum include high speed data services for private Local Area Networks, EFTPOS devices and mobile telephones. Examples include an RF based HIPERLAN standard which will support 20Mbit/s data with a 50m range or 1Mbit/s data over 800m, including slowly moving (36km/h) terminals. and handheld devices used for stocktaking and being proposed for Medical Support. (4)
These two way mobile and fixed "telecommunications" systems are competing with mobile "broadcasting" systems such as DAB/Eureka (5) and the IBOC, as well as the fixed Digital TV technologies. While the Canadian's and Europeans line up with the DAB system which will require the reallocation of spectrum and accommodate new players. The US terrestrial broadcasters are attempting to retain control of the spectrum through an argument for HDTV. The HDTV strategy for encouraging broadcasters to undertake the transition to Digital Broadcasting has been described by consumer advocates in the US as "Corporate Welfare" (8).
When compared to the low entry point and explosive growth of the Internet, the HDTV argument for better quality pictures via expensive massive receivers seems desperate. The Globalisation and delivery of standard TV format sport and entertainment via Satellite only erodes the case further.
The Digitisation of Satellite Telecommunications has created additional capacity on transponders (6). This additional capacity has been used to offer a variety of new services including multichannel and subscriber TV & Radio services, Asynchronous Internet access (7), telephone services and private data distribution services. Similar opportunities will be created and exploited in the digitisation of Terrestrial broadcasting.
The role of broadcasters in selecting and disseminating entertainment and information in the public interest, is diminished by the myriad of education and entertainment services delivered over the Internet. Sony Music for example is developing techniques to sell and distribute recordings over the Internet - potentially eliminating the manufacture and sale of music on CD (9). In the education sector, Universities are developing Internet delivered curriculum. The print media has also globalised through the Internet.
Broadcasters are also exploring opportunities offered by the Internet, such as going global - by providing feeds of their TV and Radio programs; and enhancing their programming with Internet chat sessions.
According to the ABS there are over 200 languages spoken in Australia including 48 indigenous languages - less than half of these are made available on a national basis (10). Other than Multilingual services broadcast by SBS Radio and Television non-english broadcasts are limited and quite localised.
Even though Internet business models haven't yet crystallised, Australia cannot afford to place broadcasters in the unique position of selecting and distributing "Free To Air" Internet content, without consideration of the commercially advantages this will provide to a few operators.
The Internet has changed the role and influence of broadcasters in Australian Society. The Internet can truly reflect and engage the diversity and remoteness of Australia's society. It consolidates the sparse Australian domestic market and provides access to global markets and geographically independent trading agreements and relationships.
The broadcasting act is no longer an appropriate mechanism for allocating control of the radio magnetic spectrum or ensuring funding for the development, distribution and marketing of Australian content or cultural identity. More importantly, the Internet provides a window of opportunity, for Australia to develop new business models which can be applied to the burgeoning world telecommunications markets.
The convergence of Media services on the Internet makes it difficult to sustain an argument for the cross media ownership rules. This convergence and role of the Internet in information delivery raises issues of equity and access which need to be addressed in the Universal Service Obligation and Consumer Protection frameworks.
Marghanita da Cruz
PO BOX 341 Annandale NSW 2038