When LG launched its DAB+-equipped phone recently, we took the opportunity to champion the Australian regions that have yet to receive digital radio, which remains currently limited to the major capitals.
We noted the possible promise of a line in its press release: “DAB+ ... is currently available in Sydney, Melbourne Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, with plans to rollout to regional areas from 2017.”
That would be very good news indeed for the millions of Australians not in one of the specified capitals. And for DAB+ to fully succeed, nationwide coverage is surely required, not just the capitals. We may be seeing more DAB+ in vehicles, but it’s not much use if it simply snaps off once you hit the outlying suburbs.
Joan Warner, the CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, said a few words at the LG launch event, so our correspondent Stephen Dawson piped up for our country readers requesting more information about this. (Disclosure —Stephen is classed as a regional resident in terms of current DAB+ coverage despite residing in our national capital — as with Darwin, Canberra is still on what is termed an extended trial service.)
It turns out that a year or two ago the former Communications Minister (he’s since moved on to... other things) set up a committee to explore extending DAB+ to regional areas. The committee includes representatives from ABC, SBS, Commercial Radio Australia, the community radio stations, the Commonwealth Department of Communications and ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Because the DAB+ rollout was overregulated in the first place (that’s our comment, not hers), legislative changes are required to get this whole thing going. Some of that has already happened. ACMA now has the authority to declare when DAB+ can start up in various areas, but more is required. Presently the law requires there to be two multiplexes: one for commercial stations and one for government ones (i.e. ABC and SBS). We confess we neglected to ask where the community stations fit in there.
Canberra and Darwin are the two long-running ‘trial’ sites for regional DAB+, and they have their (fewer) commercial and government station channels packed into one multiplex (i.e. one former analogue TV station band). We gather that this is unlikely to change, being considered a better fit for regional areas since they have rather fewer commercial stations than the big cities. The priority for the committee, Ms Warner says, is to get the current trials in Canberra and Darwin upgraded to full powered DAB+ implementations (rather than the piddly 3kW presently in use), plus the addition of additional transmitters to fill in the dead areas. Suitable legislative changes will be required to permit the continuation of the single multiplex.
She’s hoping for an announcement in the third quarter of this year.
Furthermore, she’s hoping for a wide DAB+ rollout in currently unserved regional areas in a model akin to that used with Digital TV. She’d like to see 50 regions served within five years.
This raised in my mind the prospect of an analogue radio switch-off. She suggested perhaps a ten-year time-scale, pointing out that you’d want at least 80% of the population already on DAB+ before taking such a step.
That’s blue sky stuff, of course. For present purposes, the question of the permanence and performance enhancements for the current trial sites (Canberra and Darwin) and roll-out to regional areas depends on further legislative changes. Both sides of politics are apparently supportive, but one imagines that the priority accorded to this — a regular, non-partisan good-government measure — will depend upon how it fits in with the priorities of whichever government is in place in the second half of this year.
Those wishing to support the outreach of DAB+ to wider Australia may wish to visit the online petition at http://wewantdigitalradio.com.au/