Australia Sets DTT Rollout for 2001


Sydney, Australia -- High-definition digital-terrestrial
television is set to arrive in Australia in 2001, after the country's Parliament
passed legislation earlier this month requiring broadcasters to start the service by
January of that year.

However, an 18-month statutory-review process for the
industry to establish standards, technology, content and details on additional services
prior to launch is now under way, with reviews due to Parliament by January 2000.

The 2001 start-up date was one condition put on
Australia's three commercial and two public broadcasters in return for being given 7
megahertz of digital spectrum free-of-charge to provide DTT.

Potential new players, which have been locked out of the
new digital-broadcast market for eight years, won a major concession in the legislation.
Existing broadcasters' monopoly on DTT expires in 2006, rather than in 2008, as
previously suggested, and they must transmit minimum amounts of high-definition television
or risk being stripped of the spectrum.

The new laws protect pay TV operators by prohibiting
Australia' s commercial-broadcast networks from multicasting, or providing additional
channels, although public broadcasters may be allowed to do so.

Rural and regional broadcasters have an extra three years
to build the infrastructure and programming to provide services, with a digital start date
of January 2004.

The most contentious part of the legislation states that
broadcasters can use part of their digital spectrum that is not being utilized for
television to provide data-transmission services. Spectrum not used by broadcasters for
data will be auctioned to new players that can provide digital data-transmission services.
They will also be bound to the January 2001 start date. Existing broadcasters will be
prohibited from bidding for this surplus spectrum.

Meanwhile, an industry panel has recommended to the
government that the European Digital Video Broadcasting standard be adopted as the
technical standard for Australia.

The broadcasting and data-transmission industries were
mixed in their reactions to the bill's passage.

Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations
general manager Tony Branigan said the January 2001 start date provides a tight timetable,
but the certainty of a legal framework meant that the broadcasters could now commit
themselves to spending the money to get digital TV up and running.

Tom Mockridge, chair of pay TV industry group the
Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, said that while the giveaway of
spectrum to the commercial networks was anti-competitive, ASTRA welcomed the fact that
Parliament had decided not to give in to the broadcasters' full list of demands.