Government backs mobile digital TV network in spectrum sell-off

By Matthew Henry

CANBERRA: The federal government has confirmed it will auction two spare channels of digital TV spectrum which could be used for a digital TV network for mobile phones and new in-home digital services to drive the uptake of digital TV in Australian households.

If realised, mobile phone users could have access to digital TV on the go, and households with access to terrestrial digital TV could have access to new digital-only content, which the government hopes will provide incentive for consumers to buy digital TV equipment.

The plan was canvassed in June this year when the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Helen Coonan, unveiled the Howard government’s media reform blueprint which included measures to drive the uptake of digital TV.

Senator Coonan yesterday announced the government’s intention to go through with the spectrum sell-off, calling on existing broadcasters and new players to come up with innovative digital service models for the channels.

“This is fantastic news for Australian consumers. As we convert from an analogue world to a digital one, Australian consumers will be able to increasingly access new and innovative services and this is a significant step towards that,” said Senator Coonan.

“The allocation of this spectrum provides a significant opportunity for the emergence of new digital services such as true mobile television in Australia.”

Neither channel will be permitted to broadcast traditional in-home TV programming, but the government has not specified what the spectrum will ultimately be used for.

However, while the services offered will depend on proposals put forward by interested buyers, Senator Coonan appears to have placed her support behind a mobile TV network.

Samsung Australia said the government has not specified which mobile TV standard will be implemented, but the government has said it will consult industry stakeholders in developing a model.

“Samsung has the technology to back up whatever standard is selected by the Australian government, to bring the benefits of mobile TV technology to Australian consumers,” said Samsung general manager – corporate marketing, Kurt Jovais.

The spectrum auction will ensure at least one new player will enter the digital TV broadcasting landscape, as incumbent free-to-air broadcasters will be forbidden from purchasing ‘Channel A’ – the swathe of spectrum reserved for in-home services.

However, existing broadcasters will be permitted to control ‘Channel B’, which is reserved for non-in-home services such as mobile TV.

“I have always said that Australian consumers are the end-game in the media reform process,” said Senator Coonan.

“In addition to these new digital services I am announcing today, consumers will be able to access improved multichannels from the two national brodacasters – ABC and SBS.

“The commercial broadcasters will also be permitted to provide a high definition multichannel from 2007 and a standard definition multichannel from 2009.

“These changes will revolutionise the television viewing experience in Australia and add to the wide range of services now available to Australian consumers.”

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