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NBN no substitute for regional satellite service, review finds

A review of the regional Viewer Access Satellite Television service by the Department of Communications and the Arts has found that alternative technologies cannot currently provide the same level of service as delivered by the existing satellite model.

Other delivery options considered in the review included the National Broadband Network, alternative satellite technologies, mobile networks, an expansion of the terrestrial transmission network, and other internet protocol-based delivery models.

The inal DOCA report recommended that the current satellite delivery model should be continued for the next ive years, as it currently provides the only available cost effective and it-for-purpose service delivery model for free-to-air television in areas not served by a terrestrial transmission service.

As a result of the review, the federal government has now agreed to provide $10 million in additional funding to the VAST service through until 2021. The $10 million in additional funding is also supported by contributions from broadcasters.

VAST, which uses the Optus satellite network, provides commercial and national television services free-to-air to around 500,000 viewers in regional Australia, including 30,000 travellers. It also covers some metropolitan areas where terrestrial transmission services are not able to be economically provided by broadcasters.

According to the report, satellite broadcasting provides clear advantages that other delivery technologies cannot, including Australia-wide coverage, reliable and uncongested reception, and access to a broadly metropolitan-comparable FTA TV service. It also noted overwhelming stakeholder support for continuing satellite delivery, particularly from individual viewers.

“Alternative delivery options would need to improve the service, reduce ongoing costs, and avoid imposing unnecessary additional costs given the equipment investment by households and by the government in establishing the current model.

A strong business case for delivery options other than satellite was not able to be demonstrated,” the inal report stated. The review also directly addressed the question of whether the NBN could support free-to-air television services. As most VAST users are in Sky Muster areas, the report looked at the viability of NBN's satellites for delivery.

It suggested that while Sky Muster is able to support standard and high deinition video transmission, the two NBN satellites were designed for broadband delivery rather than broadcast. It found that fundamental differences in their design from VAST meant there were signiicant challenges that would need to be overcome for an NBN solution.

A second major obstacle to using Sky Muster is that VAST services would consume a large proportion of the user's data allowances. In November last year NBN announced that it would not meter essential data, such as email and internet banking, however video streaming continues to count towards users download caps.

IMPROVEMENTS PROPOSED: The inal report also included recommendations to make improvements to the existing satellite delivery service. It said that while VAST is generally eficient, there are opportunities to optimise end user experience and administrative aspects of the next program. These include conditional access, the relevance of local content, a lack of complete equivalency to terrestrial services, and VAST set top box costs and functionality.

It recommended that in negotiating the next phase of the program, the government should explore what scope there is to adjust the satellite delivery model to include: • expanded channel selection, including high deinition channels • enhanced news and radio services • improved local content and advertising, and • access to a broader and more competitive set-top box market.

During the consultation phase, both Optus and Fetch TV put forward proposals to upgrade the set-top box technology currently being used.

Fetch TV CEO Scott Lorson said in a submission that it would be possible to provide a STB that is more future proof and offers the consumer the ability to access a wider range of content delivered in different ways from the one set top box.

Optus, which provides set-top boxes for the existing VAST service, said that it has already been developing new advanced STB features including: advanced PVR functionality; broadband connectivity and co-existence with wireless and satellite NBN technologies; support for on-demand services; multiroom technology; advance decoding; and targeted content insertion such as local news and weather together with emergency broadcasting messaging.

DOCA also recommended that the satellite delivery model should be reviewed before the next funding service period ends to determine whether other options have become viable, prior to extending the service for an additional ive years. Geoff Long, Commsday

Australasia Satellite Forum 2019


The Westin Hotel, Sydney, Australia

21 & 22 May 2019