July 22, 2024

Viewers in Sunraysia who will lose access to Channel 10’s signal from Monday, following the closure of Mildura Digital TV, will be able to access Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) under a new Bill introduced in Parliament yesterday.

But the costs for a VAST approved satellite set-top box and a satellite dish at around $800 will be borne by the user.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional Broadcasting Continuity) Bill 2024 expands access to the VAST safety-net service in communities where there has been a material reduction to the number of terrestrial commercial television broadcasting services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will be empowered to declare an area to be ‘service-deficient’, that will allow audiences in the area to access services via satellite, should they wish to do so.

The Bill comprises amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA) and Radiocommunications Act 1992 (RCA) to:

permit viewers to access the VAST safety net service when a commercial television broadcaster ceases to provide services terrestrially in a given area;
remove impediments to commercial television broadcasters consolidating their terrestrial transmission arrangements; and
enable the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to amend Television Licence Area Plans (TLAPs) to accommodate consolidated transmission arrangements.

This is in addition to the Government’s decision to extend the Commercial Broadcasting Tax (CBT) rebate by four years, to support eligible regional television and radio broadcasters. An additional one-off 12.5 per cent increase to the CBT rebate has also been applied.

Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland said, “This Bill will expand eligibility for regional and remote Australians to continue to access the broadcasting services in circumstances where there is a material reduction in the number of commercial television broadcasting services provided terrestrially in a given area.

“Expanding the eligibility of the VAST service complements the Federal Government’s commitment to extend this important safety net through to 2031. I look forward to seeing this Bill debated in the Parliament.”

But Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said long-term structural measures were needed for regional communities and broadcasters, not short-term tweaks.

“From 1 July almost 70,000 people in Mildura will no longer be able to access broadcasts from Mildura Digital Television, which delivers Network 10 programming to the region. That means no broadcast access to the Matildas or Socceroos or shows like MasterChef, Australian Survivor or 10 News.

“This legislation merely allows Mildura viewers the option of installing a satellite dish at their own expense to receive the remote area VAST service to replace their Network 10 services. While this gives Mildura residents an option to replace their lost services, it is not a fair or reasonable solution, new satellite installation can cost upwards of $800. In a cost-of-living crisis this is simply not realistic for many Australians just to access the television services that are available for free to everyone else.

“Without urgent substantive action by Government more licence areas are likely to follow.”

Free TV is calling on the Government to:

Abolish the outdated and unjustified spectrum tax.
Amend the Prominence and Anti-Siphoning Bill to ensure that all Australians can watch their live and free sport no matter how they get their free TV, and can find their local TV services on their current TV sets without needing to buy a new one.
Review regulatory imposts on commercial TV stations that don’t apply to digital competitors who sell advertising against them—such as licence area restrictions and rules that limit ownership arrangements.
Implement direct funding support for markets where services are not commercially viable. The Government already spends billions of dollars on telecommunications blackspots and should do the same for regional broadcasting.

10 has also recommended viewers use 10Play to keep watching their favourite shows.

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