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New satellite services (announced in press release of 29 January) (No 78)

Senator Ludlam asked:
1. How much of the $13.6 m announced for Mildura related analog TV switch-off is related to the so called "new satellite services" to be developed for TV homes there that will have difficulty in receiving the broadcaster's digital terrestrial TV transmissions and the 89 homes in the Underbool self help area;
2. Given that the Government commitment to pay for the satellite capacity to deliver these satellite services is for one year, is there no current guarantee to those homes in the Mildura TV Licence area that choose to use satellite as their method of digital TV conversion that these satellite services will continue after the one year "trial" expires. How would the lack of any ongoing guarantee be communicated to the target audience for the new satellite services for Mildura;
3. Given that the Mildura satellite services will use different compression (Mpeg 4) to that currently used for ‘normal' digital terrestrial and current digital direct to home remote area free to air satellite services (Mpeg 2) (see Hansard Senate Estimates 23 February ECA 99) does that mean that
• the trial Mildura satellite services will stand completely alone from all other current free to air digital terrestrial and satellite free to air services and that the equipment required to receive them can not be used to receive any other current satellite delivered free to air satellite services;
• That either the ABC or SBS or Government will pay for a 4th set of ABC and SBS TV services to be available from satellite (the first being for current remote area services; the second to feed their digital terrestrial transmitters and the third to provide feeds of their services to satellite subscription TV customers). Does this seem an efficient use of taxpayers funds;
4. It is understood from Senate Estimates Hansard of 23 February ECA 90 that the Mildura satellite services will consist of "all of the services provided by ABC and SBS including ABC 1, 2 and HD and SBS 1, 2 and HD but only the simulcast standard definition (SD) version of the three local commercial free to air services". On this basis why:
• Are only the SD versions of the services viewed for 80% of the time by regional Victoria viewers to be included whereas services viewed for less than 2% of the time (ABC 2 and SBS 2) included; and
• Why is an HD set top box being considered when neither the ABC or SBS are required to produce real HD programs and no commercial TV services' HD channels will be available.
5. Given that less than a full set of local available free to air digital TV services will be available to those in the Mildura TV licence area who take up the satellite option, has consideration been given to providing the Melbourne feed of Community TV and the national NITV service as additional services to those taking the satellite option.
6. Before determining the Mpeg 4 rather than the Mpeg 2 format was any consideration given to using exactly the same satellite transmission technology and satellite as are used for current state based ABC and SBS remote area satellite TV services, NITV and Westlink to enable the one set top box and satellite dish to be used to watch existing services as well as the newly available from satellite 3 commercial SD services?
Answer:
1. The total amount of funding to be directed towards the new satellite service is currently commercial-in-confidence as the Taskforce is in negotiation with broadcasters and service providers on the implementation and therefore the cost of the service. When these negotiations are concluded then any Government commitment will be reported.
2. The proposed new satellite service is funded for a single 12 month period only. This is most likely to be the calendar year of 2010. The identity of some satellite viewers will be known to the Government as a result of an application for subsidy. Other viewers will be identifiable as a result of the conditional access system to be implemented for the service. Should the service not be extended beyond 12 months, the Taskforce will communicate directly with these viewers and advise of the transition path available to them. The Taskforce will fully disclose the scope of the satellite service, any transitional arrangements and the effective dates of the service at the time of application.
3.
• The equipment required to receive the service will be determined after final negotiations on the technical specifications of the service are concluded with broadcasters and service providers. Interoperability will be an issue that is considered before a final decision on specifications is taken.
• The technical parameters of the services provided by the ABC and SBS will be decided through negotiations with these and other broadcasters. The Department will ensure, in achieving the desired extension of viewer access to digital television, that the efficient use of spectrum and taxpayer funds is properly considered.
4.
• The anticipated commercial content on the new satellite service includes the main channels that provide unique programming content for the area at this time. At this time the HD commercial broadcasting services in the Mildura licence area are considered limited and irregular in their delivery of unique content. One commercial licensee in the area shows a show reel of HD content with only enough program material to meet the minimum HDTV quota requirement of 20 hours a week.
• The ABC and SBS provide HD content terrestrially, which cannot be accessed without an HD terrestrial tuner. The service aims to ensure that viewers of national broadcasting services have access to the full range of content without reference to the mode of delivery. The proposal also includes HD set top boxes to avoid the problem of a legacy of SD-only boxes existing for these viewers should the service be extended past the 12 month pilot period and should HD channels remain part of the service.
5. This new satellite service is a pilot and will deliver an enhanced content proposition to those residents who cannot currently receive any local free to air digital television from the broadcaster for that licence area. Consideration was given to the inclusion of additional services that are not currently available in the licence area, however this is outside the scope of a pilot service.
6. The intention of the proposed satellite service for Mildura is to act as a pilot for a new service and as such it incorporates newer technologies and delivery mechanisms than those currently used for remote areas of Australia. The MPEG 4 format provides more efficient use of transponder capacity and equipment is backwards compatible to allow for the decoding of MPEG 2 signals at the home.

 

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