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Monday, July 22, 2024

Australian Govt Resorts to VAST Satellite to Prop Up Regional TV

The Australian Federal Government has introduced legislation it says will enable continued access to television broadcasting services in remote and regional Australia through the expansion of the Government-funded Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) in communities where there has been a material reduction to the number of terrestrial commercial television broadcasting services.

Under the Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional Broadcasting Continuity) Bill 2024, the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be empowered to declare an area to be ‘service-deficient’, that will allow audiences in the area to access services via satellite, should they wish to do so.

The Bill also adjusts the broadcasting regulatory framework to allow television broadcasters to save costs by managing their transmission network more efficiently while continuing to deliver high quality services to their audiences.

The Bill comprises amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) and Radiocommunications Act 1992 (RCA) to:

  • permit viewers to access the VAST safety net service when a commercial television broadcaster ceases to provide services terrestrially in a given area;
  • remove impediments to commercial television broadcasters consolidating their terrestrial transmission arrangements; and
  • enable the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to amend Television Licence Area Plans (TLAPs) to accommodate consolidated transmission arrangements.

This is in addition to the Government’s decision to extend the Commercial Broadcasting Tax (CBT) rebate by four years, to support eligible regional television and radio broadcasters. An additional one-off 12.5 per cent increase to the CBT rebate has also been applied.

The extended and increased CBT rebate will now provide $5.4 million in annual support, up from $4.8 million in 2023-24. This investment provides greater certainty for regional broadcasters that continue to face challenging operating environments and rising costs.

According to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP: “The taxpayer-funded Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service plays an important role as a broadcasting safety net providing access to broadcasting services for audiences in regional and remote areas.

“This Bill will expand eligibility for regional and remote Australians to continue to access the broadcasting services in circumstances where there is a material reduction in the number of commercial television broadcasting services provided terrestrially in a given area.

“Expanding the eligibility of the VAST service complements the Federal Government’s commitment to extend this important safety net through to 2031. I look forward to seeing this Bill debated in the Parliament.”

Referring to the imminent closure of Network 10 services in the Mildura region, FreeTV CEO Bridget fair, said: “This legislation merely allows Mildura viewers the option of installing a satellite dish at their own expense to receive the remote area VAST service to replace their Network 10 services. While this gives Mildura residents an option to replace their lost services, it is not a fair or reasonable solution. New satellite installation can cost upwards of $800. In a cost-of-living crisis, this is simply not realistic for many Australians just to access the television services that are available for free to everyone else. Without urgent substantive action by Government, more licence areas are likely to follow.”

See full Mildura 10 Closure article here.


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