Aussie Viewers Will Have Maximum Choice in DTV, Gov't. Declares

Australians will have the maximum number of choices when digital television broadcasting and datacasting begin on the first day of 2001, according to guidelines announced December 21 by Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications, Information Technology, and the Arts. Alston told the press that considering the interests of consumers has been his government's "guiding principle" in the implementation of new forms of technology. "Australians will be able to choose the viewing option which best suits their individual circumstances" on the day DTV debuts, Alston said.

Under government mandates, Australian broadcasters will be required to continue analog broadcasting for a minimum of eight years, and will be required to offer programming in both the high-definition (HDTV) and standard-definition (SDTV) formats. The broadcasters are being allocated the needed bandwidth for the new services, as well as for an assortment of datacasting services, which include what Alston called "a wide variety of information, education, advertising, shopping, and news services."

Australia is the first country to make a distinction between television broadcasting and datacasting. Many American broadcasters are reportedly planning to use much of their allocated bandwidth for datacasting as a way of maximizing its commercial potential. Set-top converter boxes will allow Australian consumers to enjoy the new services with their existing analog receivers.

"In making these decisions, the Government was well aware of the need to strike a balance between the interests of consumers and the very real financial pressures on both broadcasters and aspirant datacasters," Alston noted. He added that the government intends to ensure the stability of the present Australian broadcasting industry by prohibiting new broadcasters from entering the market during the first few years of the transition to all-digital broadcasting. "Last year's legislation, supported by both Government and Opposition parties, prohibits the introduction of new free-to-air broadcasters before 31 December 2006. Accordingly, the new datacasting regime has been crafted so as to ensure that datacasters cannot offer a de facto broadcasting service."

Regulations for the implementation of DTV in Australia include the following: "Within two years of the commencement of digital broadcasting in each area, commercial television broadcasters and the ABC will be required to provide at least 20 hours per week of programming produced in HDTV . . . and to provide a standard-definition television (SDTV) signal at all times. Datacasters will be able to provide a range of services, including information programs where the sole or dominant purpose is to provide information on products, services, and activities; interactive home shopping, banking, and bill paying; web pages; e-mail services; education services and interactive games . . . [but] will be prevented from showing most genres of television programs." Click here for the official statement.