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Community TV to be pushed online in spectrum reallocation

Malcolm Turnbull says community TV will soon go online as broadcast spectrum is reallocated for MPEG-4 broadcast testing and, ultimately, for sale.

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Image by tomislav medak, CC BY 2.0

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced plans to reallocate broadcast spectrum, pushing community television to online-only broadcasting.

The reallocation would see the Government "free up" the spectrum known as the sixth channel, which Turnbull said is "substantially vacant but is currently being used by community television in some state capitals".

These community broadcasters include C31 in Melbourne and Geelong, TVS in Sydney, 31 Digital in Queensland, C31 in Adelaide and West TV in Perth.

The reallocation is part of a move to "encourage commercial and national broadcasters to commence their transition to MPEG-4 only broadcasting" -- a technological standard that allows for more efficient use of spectrum and give TV stations the opportunity to deliver more channels (as well as "bandwidth hungry" formats such as HD) without chewing up additional spectrum.

However, Turnbull said the sixth channel would be required in the short term to test and migrate over to this new technology. Beyond this, he hinted that the spectrum could be "replanned for alternative non-broadcasting uses, perhaps as the basis for a second digital dividend".

Once national and commercial broadcasters have moved to the MPEG-4 standard, Turnbull said the Government would also "encourage spectrum sharing between television broadcasters".

While the Government will extend current licensing arrangements until December 31, 2015, community TV stations will need to begin planning for their transition online.

"I have no doubt that this transition is in the best interests of community television," said Turnbull. "It will deliver wider audiences, at less cost, on a wider range of devices, and the ability to do more than linear broadcasting.

"Some community television representatives, acknowledging that the Internet is their ultimate home, have nonetheless argued that they should not be 'rushed into the new media world'. The Internet is not new. It is the universal uber-platform to which most people in Australia are connected 24/7."

Australia's community television channels have created a site calling for support for community TV, arguing that "there are no economic or technical reasons why community television should not be given a permanent home" on the digital spectrum.

"There is enough available broadcast spectrum to ensure a variety of media operators can exist including CTV [community TV] stations," the site reads. "Without community television we lose genuine media diversity...[and] a whole heap of interesting, quirky, niche and local programs on free to air television, reflecting the extraordinary diversity of Australian society."