Telcos, broadcasters spar over spectrum review

Telcos, Foxtel seek unified spectrum planning framework, but broadcasters say they should remain separate.

Broadcasters say they want no part in a revamped regulatory framework for spectrum, contrary to calls by telcos and Foxtel for broadcasting spectrum to be included.

The government has commenced the review in an effort to modernise the current framework, established in 1992 under the Radiocommunications (RadComms) Act. It seeks to reflect changes in technology, markets and consumer preferences, as well as increasing demand for spectrum from all sectors. The framework was last reviewed by the Productivity Commission in 2002.

The ABC, SBS and broadcasting association Commercial Radio Australia have all asked that broadcasting spectrum to be carved out from the scope of the spectrum review.

But the Communications Alliance (CA) and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which represent telcos, said in a joint filing that broadcasting spectrum should be included.

The ABC said it’s concerned that the terms of reference fail to acknowledge that broadcasting services bands (BSBs) are administered separately from other spectrum.

“As the review is primarily focused on the operation of the Radiocommunications Act 1992, the Corporation believes that broadcasting spectrum, which is allocated and planned under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, should be explicitly identified as outside of its terms of reference.”

However, the CA and AMTA said they “support fundamental reform of Australia’s spectrum allocation and management regulatory framework in order to provide the foundation for development of a unified regulatory framework for the management and allocation of spectrum, including broadcasting spectrum.”

“The Associations strongly support a common and consistent approach to the planning, allocation and management of all spectrum, including broadcasting and non-broadcasting spectrum.”

Telstra, a member of both groups, said in its own filing that the review should address inconsistencies between the spectrum planning mechanisms set out in the RadComms Act and the Broadcasting Services Act. A unified approach was recommended by the Productivity Commision in 2002 and the Convergence Review in 2012, the telco added.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia agreed. “VHA believes that the review should … explicitly consider whether a unified framework covering telecommunications, broadband, broadcasting and other users of spectrum should be adopted.”

Foxtel, which as a pay-TV provider competes with free-to-air (FTA) broadcasters, also called for a single framework that includes telecom and broadcasting spectrum.

“There should not be special arrangements for FTA broadcasters set out in broadcasting legislation,” Foxtel said.

“Special rules for FTA broadcasters have led to inefficient use of broadcasting spectrum, an inadequate return to the public for use of its resources and competitive and economic advantage being conferred on FTA broadcasters.”

However, the ABC argued that the goals of broadcasting spectrum regulation are different and should remain separate.

“Broadcast spectrum planning in Australia is based on a series of policy principles that seek to maximise public benefit by ensuring quality, diversity and, as far as possible, universal availability of broadcasting services,” it said.

“To this end, the BSBs are administered separately from the rest of the radiofrequency spectrum, as set out in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, and are subject to detailed planning processes that provide stringent, pre-emptive protection from interference. The ABC is strongly of the view that, to provide the best possible services to Australian audiences, broadcasting spectrum should continue to be planned on this basis within any redeveloped spectrum framework.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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