Australian gov't unveils 'freesat' plan
Written by Rose Major
Tuesday, 05 January 2010 08:35

Australia’s government is committing A$160 million (US$146 million) to build a free-to-air digital-satellite platform to solve the problems of reception of digital TV in rural and regional blackspot areas.

Announced by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, the new platform will for the first time see all free-to-air digital TV services including local news feeds, available across the entire country.

While the final cost of the digital-satellite broadcasting service will be determined following negotiations between broadcasters and satellite service providers, the government is committing A$40 million per year over the four-year forward estimates to build and operate the service.

Under an agreement reached with all television broadcasters across Australia, broadcasters will upgrade more than 100 existing regional analog ‘self-help’ transmission facilities to operate in digital, while the Government will fully fund and build a new digital satellite broadcasting service for regional viewers who are unable to receive digital television from those facilities.

The government will provide a A$300 satellite conversion subsidy to eligible homes which are not served by digital ‘self-help’ transmission sites. Under the ‘self-help’ scheme, a community may apply for a licence to operate their own rebroadcasting transmitter or community cable system to improve reception.

A satellite service for the Sunraysia/Mildura region, the first area planned for analogue switch-off on June 30 this year, will start prior to switch-off.

Sen. Conroy said: "This historic decision will dramatically improve the choice and quality of television services for regional Australia as we move towards digital switchover.

"For the first time all free-to-air digital television services, including the original three commercial and two national channels, as well as new digital services such as ABC2, ABC3, SBS TWO, GO!, 7TWO and ONE HD, will be available to all Australians, no matter where they live.

"The satellite service will provide regional viewers with access to the local news currently broadcast in their TV licence area via a dedicated local news channel."

Simultaneously with the announcement of countrywide digital-satellite provision, the government also released its green paper seeking public comment on the benefits and costs of maximising Australia’s digital dividend.

The green paper establishes a government target of 126 MHz of contiguous ultra-high frequency spectrum. Achieving this will involve moving some digital TV services to new channels.

Sen. Conroy said: "It is anticipated that a contiguous block of dividend spectrum will be suitable for a larger number of potential communications uses, maximising the potential benefits that the spectrum could provide to Australians."