Broadcasting legislation in sights of convergence review

Committee, lead department point to overt complexity of media legislation

The government department leading a review into policy structures around media, technologies and delivery operators has conceded changes to broadcasting legislation are long overdue.

The review, announced last year by communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, aims to investigate and potentially recommend changes to current policy frameworks surrounding licence fees, spectrum allocation, cross-ownership rules and media diversity.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE), which leads the review, last week finalised the three-person committee for the review, including former IBM Australia managing director, Glenn Boreham, as chairman.

Presenting to the Korea-Australia-New Zealand (KANZ) Broadband Summit 2011 in Hobart this week, department secretary Peter Harris said the review would form a complement to the National Broadband Network and physical separation of Telstra, both mechanisms to change the telecommunications industry.

However, he argued the legislation itself currently surrounding broadcasting and telecommunications rights was in dire need of an overhaul.

“It’s all very well spending billions on major alterations to the business plans of telco market participants,” he said.

“These shifts, massive in themselves, address primarily the circumstances of supply; a convergence review will address the nature of demand.

“The time has come to examine the regulatory structures that underpin the businesses that deliver services over these networks.”

Harris said the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, which has dictated much of the policy surrounding media regulation and diversity, was an example of governments “trying to keep up with technology,” and had become complex enough to incite a new legal industry dedicated to understanding and diverting the complexity of the issues involved.

The legislation has grown from 100 pages when first instituted in Australian Parliament to more than 1000 pages, with 66 amendments so far.

An initial framing paper (PDF) released this week by the committee, chairman Boreham pointed to the confusion around what constituted broadcasting services and operators as a reason for the growing complexity of the legislation.

The review would ultimately provide advice as to whether a converged environment would require the Federal Government to reconsider the policy frameworks, ultimately leading to a single piece of legislation governing broadcasters, telcos and essentially all forms of media operators.

The framing paper indicated that further regulation may not be necessary to better govern a converged media environment.

However, Harris said the review, one of the most comprehensive conducted so far on the issue, was ultimately needed to provide a more cohesive regulatory structure around the delivery of media through both traditional means and over the internet.

“There’s a world of difference between the regulatory structure and code of practice governing one set of of 15 hours from the other,” he said.

The committee is expected to begin initial hearings in July ahead of a final report due early next year.

With Chloe Herrick

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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