Turnbull sides with broadcasters on fee rebates

Supports permanent lowering of spectrum license fees in wake of increased competition from IPTV

Shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has sided with free-to-air broadcasters in their campaign to permanently lower spectrum licence fees, noting the rising tide of internet protocol television as competition to traditional television magnates.

In an interview with media and advertising publication Mumbrella, Turnbull noted that TV networks have a “very good” argument for the permanent change to fees, as the monopoly they once had on broadcasting no longer existed.

“We’re now dealing with a competitive environment that is completely different, it’s not just cable TV, it’s internet television,” he said.

The Federal Government last year announced it would offer free-to-air networks rebates of 33 per cent of spectrum licensing fees for 2010 and 50 per cent in 2011 - amounting to more than $143 million based on 2008/2009 fees - as compensation for an increasingly converged media environment and extra financial pressures of the switch to digital television.

While admitting that no government wants to give up a source of revenue, Turnbull claimed the networks had a valid argument.

“It’s a question of working out what is a fair fee, if you like, for the use of that public spectrum, recognising that they’re leasing it, not buying it for a capital sum over a long period such as the telcos do for wireless spectrum.

“I guess what I’m saying is, the world is changing, convergence is real and all of these things have got to be looked at objectively.”

Despite increasing moves by ISPs such as iiNet, Internode and Telstra into the IPTV market, Ovum analyst Jonathan Doran indicated IPTV services will “struggle for scale” in the Australian market over the coming years, reaching only 342,000 Australian households by 2015.

Doran said digital free-to-air networks would remain dominant over the same period, attracting 5.89 million viewers in 2015. Other television mediums, such as satellite and cable, would continue to see growth in coming years, but will fail to reach the same heights as free-to-air networks, he said.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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