In December 2001, the ACMA completed a massive task - an Australia-wide public planning process aimed at deciding, area by area, the number, type and technical characteristics of new broadcasting services that will be available and progressively licensing these services.
The ACMA's general approach to planning sets out the legislative framework and planning criteria as well as the ACMA general approach to the planning of broadcasting services. It also contains record of advice and assumptions.
More detailed information about specific aspects of the allocation process is available in the ACMA's information packages, which are produced when a licence becomes available for allocation. Please contact the Licensing section of ACMA for further information regarding specific licences and their accompanying information package. Below is a general overview of ACMA's planning and licensing process.
- Key elements of the ACMA's planning and allocation process
- Key features of the licence area plans (LAPs)
- Key features of price-based allocation system (commercial and open narrowcasting licences)
- Key features of the community licence allocation system
- Key features of the technical planning guidelines (TPGs)
- Key features of transmitter sites
- Allocation of other licences
- the Minister has given the ACMA, an independent statutory authority, responsibility for planning and allocating all parts of the radiofrequency spectrum used for free-to-air broadcasting services in Australia, namely, the parts of the airwaves that are used for AM and FM radio, and VHF and UHF television spectrum (the broadcasting services bands);
- planning is accompanied by wide public consultation. At the end of the planning process for each area, the ACMA prepares a licence area plan, or LAP, for the area which provides a comprehensive blueprint for development of all free-to-air broadcasting in that area;
- much of the detailed planning of transmission facilities will be carried out by successful licence applicants themselves, within guidelines set down by the ABA;
- the technical characteristics which the ACMA's LAPs prescribe, together with the ACMA's Technical Planning Guidelines, provide a non-negotiable 'envelope' of technical parameters and procedures within which licensees must do their detailed planning;
- commercial licence allocation is by a price-based 'auction style' process under which all commercial broadcasters take full responsibility for their own viability;
- licences for open narrowcasting services which use the broadcasting services band spectrum are also issued under a price-based allocation process;
- community licence allocation, is merit-based, with frequencies made available free-of-charge;
- regulation of content is now separate from regulation of the means of carriage. The content of broadcasting services is authorised by either a service licence or class licence under the Broadcasting Services Act. Separate authorisation may be required for the means of carriage.
An aspirant broadcaster can position itself to benefit from the licence area planning process when public consultation occurs in its particular area of interest.
It is at this point that the well prepared aspirant can lodge expressions of interest providing the ACMA with evidence supporting the availability of a service of the kind it wishes to operate. This is also the time to make submissions to the ACMA about the licence area, transmission power, transmitter siting and other key characteristics of the new service it wishes planned. Suggestions for improving reception of existing services can be made at this point too.
Before finalising a LAP, the ACMA releases discussion papers to allow those interested to react to its preliminary decisions and affect the final outcome. This is the aspirant's final call as the ACMA will not routinely vary LAPs and cannot do so without a further wide consultative process.
Key features of licence area plans (LAPs)
- A LAP is a legal instrument setting out the number and characteristics, including the technical specifications, of all AM and FM radio, and VHF and UHF television services that are available within the licence areas covered by the LAP.
- LAPs specify the category (commercial, community, national and narrowcasting) of the new services to be made available and their licence area where applicable.
- The technical specifications set out in LAPs are not for negotiable after finalisation, however there is flexibility in the siting of transmitters.
Let's assume the aspirant's submissions have borne fruit; the ACMA has prepared a LAP making available a new service in which the aspirant is interested. At this point the ACMA may proceed to make licences available for allocation.
Except for single licence radio and television markets for which special provisions apply, the ACMA will advertise for applications for those licences available for allocation. The aspirant seeking a commercial broadcasting licence or a transmitter licence to provide an open narrowcasting service (no service licence is required for a narrowcasting service) must purchase a price-based licence allocation package for either, commercial or open narrowcast.
For further information on licence area plans
- The ACMA uses two separate, though similar price-based allocation systems to allocate commercial broadcasting licences and licences to provide open narrowcasting services, which are available in LAPs.
- The ACMA will advertise for applications for licences which will then be allocated under the auction-style price-based systems, unless there is only one application for a licence.
- Licences will be allocated to the highest bidder, or if there is only one applicant the licence will be allocated at the reserve price (subject to the requirements of the Broadcasting Services Act or the Radiocommunications Act (as applicable) and the Determination which governs the system), following payment in full.
- Applicants for licences will be required to register with the ABA and pay an application fee for each licence applied for.
- The ACMA must set a reserve price for individual licences.
- It will usually be economical for the ACMA to advertise and auction a number of licences at one time.
For further information on commercial and open narrowcasting licences
- Commercial licences
- Price-based allocation of commercial broadcasting licences
- Open narrowcasting licences
- Price-based allocation of open narrowcasting services
The aspirant seeking a community licence must respond to the ACMA's advertisement calling for applications, after which ACMA will assess the comparative merits of all applications received.
Key features of the community licence allocation process
- The allocation of community licences is subject to the ACMA discretion.
- Applicants for community licences must represent a community interest (the Minister may direct the ABA to give priority to a particular community interest or interests).
- The proposed service must be not-for-profit and be provided for community purposes.
- The ACMA assesses applications and other information (planning information and any relevant submissions etc.) to consider among other things, the extent to which a proposed service meets community needs and the applicant's capacity to provide the service. Provision is made for community scrutiny of applications and input in the form of written submissions.
- The ACMA may also use other procedures, for example hearings, to assess the comparative merit of applicants.
Let's assume the aspirant broadcaster has been successful in one or other of the licence allocation processes and has been allocated a service licence.
From the day of licence allocation, the licensee has 12 months (six months in the case of open narrowcasting services) to commence a service (this is a licence condition; if requested the ACMA can extend the period at its discretion). In the interim, a key challenge for the licensee will be the planning of its transmission facilities. This planning is the licensee's sole responsibility and must be carried out in accordance with the non-negotiable technical specifications of the service as determined in the LAP and in compliance with the Technical Planning Guidelines (the TPGs), or equivalent conditions in the case of open narrowcasting services. The TPGs set down procedures which must be followed and limits which must be observed in planning new transmission facilities or changes to existing facilities. The TPGs came into effect on 10 August 1995.
For further information on community licences
Key features of the Technical Planning Guidelines
- The TPGs include mandatory guidelines relating to start up procedure (including test transmissions); change of transmitter site procedure; minimum and maximum radiated power and maximum field strengths; interference to other services and emission standards.
- Transmitters licensed before 10 August 1995 are potentially subject to the TPGs. The TPGs will apply if any significant change is made to the technical specifications of the existing transmitter.
- The TPGs provide some flexibility for licensees wishing to use an alternative to the nominal site published in the LAP, placing the responsibility on the licensee to complete the necessary checks and calculations to determine that use of the alternative site will be satisfactory.
- Compliance with the TPGs is a licence condition on all transmitter licences issued under the Radiocommunications Act which are associated with commercial and community broadcasting service licences.
- Similar guidelines may be applied as special conditions to the transmitter licences of national broadcasting services and narrowcasting services using the broadcasting services bands.
Once a licence area has been planned, a service licence allocated and the aspirant broadcaster has begun planning of its transmission facilities in accordance with the TPGs, the transmitter licence that authorises the carriage of the service under the Radiocommunications Act is issued.
Transmitter licences form an important component of the licensing regime because the service's technical specifications (as determined in the LAP) and compliance with the TPGs are both enforceable as automatic conditions of the transmitter licence.
For further information on TPG's
- Under the Radiocommunications Act, commercial and community broadcasting licensees using the broadcasting services bands are entitled to a transmitter licence which remains in force while the broadcasting service licence does so.
- Under two separate conditions of the transmitter licence, transmitters must be operated in accordance with the technical specifications determined in the relevant LAP, and the TPGs must be complied with.
- Applicants must complete an approved form to be issued a transmitter licence; the licensing process will differ depending on whether the nominal site (as specified in the LAP) or an alternative site is required.
For further information on transmitter licences follow this link.
Allocation of other licences
While allocation of the licences for services using the broadcast spectrum must follow the procedure outlined above, no such planning process is necessary for other delivery methods. There is a limitation on the grant of more than three commercial television licences to a market until after a date specified by Government proclamation, but no such limit applies to the grant of new commercial or community radio licences. These licences may be granted to any suitable person.
A potential radio broadcaster wishing to use cable, non-broadcasting spectrum or any other method of delivering a signal, may obtain a licence by applying to the ACMA in writing and paying a fee. The situation is the same for subscription television broadcasting services.
Licences in other categories are even simpler to obtain. ACMA has determined a class licence for the following categories of service: subscription radio broadcasting, subscription radio or television narrowcasting, and open radio or television narrowcasting. A person or company intending to provide any such service can commence operations straight away, although they must comply with the conditions of their particular class licence. They need not even contact the ACMA, unless they require a transmitter licence to use the broadcasting services bands spectrum or request an opinion about the category into which their service will fall.
Relevant licences required under the Radiocommunications Act for spectrum outside the broadcasting services bands must be obtained from the ACMA.
For further information