FAQs - Digital Radio for Community Broadcasters

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Why is digital radio currently only available to metropolitan community broadcasters in 5 capital cities?

The Federal Government announced the framework for the initial introduction of digital radio in 2005, following industry planning dating back to the 1990s.

The first stage of introducing digital radio services was determined by the Government’s framework and is ongoing in five capital cities. Following a review of digital radio in 2015, the Government established an industry-wide Digital Radio Planning Committee for Regional Australia, chaired by the ACMA and including CBAA representation, to plan for the roll out of digital radio to regional Australia.

In late December 2016 the ACMA released the channel plans for consultation for the initial expansion of digital radio beyond the current 5 capital cities.    

The CBAA has consistently advocated for affordable access and participation for community broadcasters on all available broadcast platforms. This will continue through the digital radio planning processes, including funding support for digitisation throughout the development and introduction of digital radio.

Affordable access to the digital free-to-air broadcast platform for community broadcasters has long-standing cross-party policy support. This is important because experience has shown that where digital radio is rolled out, community radio listeners will follow and if we are not there, listeners will not be able to find their favourite stations.

What’s happening with the roll out of digital radio to regional Australia?

CBAA submissions to the Government's Spectrum Review and Digital Radio Review articulate the value of community radio services in providing media diversity, local content and information and argue the case for access to all available broadcast platforms for community radio services.

This has ensured the sector's participation in regional planning for digital radio and it is expected that digital radio will commence in several areas outside of the current capital cities to include Canberra, Hobart and Darwin in 2017 - 2018. Consultations are now underway with stations in these areas and the planning process will continue for the expansion of digital radio services. (See further information on regional planning in the question above on why digital radio is only currently available in 5 capital cities.)

The introduction of a new radio broadcasting technology platform requires a staged approach for industry investment and the incremental take up of new technologies. Digital radio listening now represents 27% of all radio listening in the capital cities where it is available.[1] The CBAA will continue to advocate for funding to support regional development and the expansion of community digital radio services.

Who currently gets digital radio funding and what is it used for?

Current funding for digital community radio supports digital radio services operated by 36 metropolitan stations and 40+ services across the 5 capital cities where DAB+ broadcasting is available – Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane.

Digital radio listening now constitutes over 27 % of all radio listening where it is available. A full list of community digital radio services is here.

Government funding helps to ensure community digital radio services are available free-to-air for listeners and on a basis that is affordable to community broadcasters. The funding is specifically targeted at broadcasting costs, and contributes to digital platform and infrastructure costs for encoding, data linking, multiplexing and transmission. This includes costs for digital radio multiplexing and transmission, which is accessed through a leasing agreement and shared with commercial broadcasters. These costs are subject to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) pricing principles. Other costs include station support and training, infrastructure planning and project management, administration and legal costs.

Each station covers its own expenses for digital content services, production and studio costs. Since 2016/17, stations make financial contributions to digital platform infrastructure and transmission costs, covering a growing share of costs themselves.

How do digital community broadcast licensees access digital radio transmission?

As digital radio is broadcast from a multiplex transmitter where multiple station signals are broadcast simultaneously in a stream of data, individual stations do not need to operate their own transmitters. Instead, a station’s signal is digitised at the station and then sent to the multiplex transmitter site via a dedicated network link. Federal legislation allows community broadcasters to transmit digital radio services by accessing a portion of a multiplex transmitter. The multiplex transmitters used by community broadcasters are shared with commercial radio stations, in accordance with the legislation that eligible community licensees can access up to two-ninths of the multiplex capacity. As there are varying numbers of community licensees sharing this capacity in each city, the exact amount of capacity available to each station dynamically varies from city to city.

Why is there a funding shortfall?

Funding for community radio stations’ participation in digital radio broadcasting was first allocated in 2009. At the time, there was a question as to whether the industry would implement digital radio using a single main transmission site or whether it would be augmented from the outset with in-fill sites to ensure adequate coverage. To address this, and other uncertainties, a ‘base funding’ amount was allocated based on a single moderate power main transmission site and with a commitment to a subsequent independent review to determine the extra funding required, including for in-fill. That review was conducted and costs were verified.

Accordingly, in 2013, the then-outgoing Labor Government made a funding adjustment of $1.4 million per year. There was an understanding this would be made ongoing, especially with the Government's review in 2015 endorsing the value of digital radio. This is affirmed by the recent Labor commitment to funding the ongoing shortfall.

However, Labor’s allocations only covered the years projected in the 2013 budget papers, and the Coalition Government’s decision not to address this issue in the 2016 Budget means that current funding does not cover the recurring costs of maintaining existing infrastructure and transmission costs for community digital radio services.

Why does the funding need to be ongoing?

Ongoing, targeted funding support is required by community broadcasters to support access to digital transmission and their role in providing local broadcast content and information. In start up stages, digital radio does not generate revenue to cover its costs and this requires long-term business planning and adaption from stations.

It is a relatively small level of funding overall, given the Government's support for media digitisation to commercial broadcasters in the form of licence fee discounts, and funding support to the ABC and SBS. It's appropriate that there is also some level of support for community broadcasters.  

Does maintaining current funding levels matter to stations not already broadcasting on digital radio?

Yes. Keeping the existing community digital radio services on air is critical to ensure community radio is included in planning for the roll out of digital radio in regional areas and to ensure access and funding support for regional community broadcasters.

The CBAA has for many years had a clear policy position to support access for all community broadcasters on all available broadcast platforms. Its absence from any platform would impact on our sector’s standing alongside commercial broadcasters and the ABC and SBS, and the choice of radio services available to the community.  

If excluded, our ability to reach listeners in our communities, and continue to provide diverse and local programming, will be compromised as digital radio broadcasting is extended to regional locations and listeners move to digital radio receivers.  

What about broadcasting online?

Many stations already provide online audio streaming services. The CBAA holds a policy position that supports the introduction of legislation to require mobile networks and internet service providers to provide un-metered delivery of licensed radio broadcast services. As media digitisation develops this will enable all Australians to have access to primary radio services in digital form. 

When will analogue radio services be switched off?

Although the finalisation of analogue services is underway in countries such as Norway (2017), Switzerland (2020 - 2024) and the UK looking to switch off after the 50% listenership trigger, ACMA is not currently setting a timetable for analogue radio switch off in Australia. The DAB+ platform in Australia supplements analogue radio broadcasting services under current Federal Government policy, alongside online radio technologies. More information outlining the current Government position regarding radio broadcasting can be found in the Digital Radio Report, released by the Department of Communications in July 2015.

For further information please contact the Digital Radio Project at the CBAA on 02 9318 2999 or drp@cbaa.org.au

To find your local community digital radio station check your postcode on our Station Look Up.

More information on the policy priority area of Digital Radio for the CBAA can be found in our Sector Leadership section.

[1] GfK CRA, December 2016, Digital Radio listening. All stations 27%, 11.3 hours per week