Many of you know that my only sibling is a prominent Australian commercial radio host and he’s presently heavily involved in experimental broadcasting technologies and information service provision. Therefore, I should be up front in saying I have not discussed what I am about to say with my brother, and am quite happy to have him contest me on this issue at any future point.
That said, I believe the Australian commercial radio lobby is probably acting in the interests of its members, but their demands today for free spectrum space and a moratorium on new commercial players are absolutely outrageous. These calls for what amounts to be a oligarchical industry structure as ‘payment’ for investment in digital radio broadcasting are anti-competitive, short-sighted and absolutely absurd.
The thing is, we’ve been through this before. When digital television was first discussed in Australia, we had the opportunity to have multi-channelling and datacasting in addition to the high-definition television. Multichannelling and datacasting only needed a set top box, and possibly an ADSL back channel, but HDTV needed a brand new, very expensive television in order to be able to receive the signal. But the commercial television and subscription television lobbies fought the government, saying that multichannelling would be anti-competitive for the immature subscription television industry, and datacasting shouldn’t be allowed to develop as a kind of “back door” or de facto method of broadcasting. New players in commercial television were banned until 2006, and we lost any chance of developing a competitive digital telvision environment based on diversity. Dozens of commentators have blasted Australian digital television policy development as a travesty of future planning, and regarded it as monumentally contrary to the dominant communications industry policy of competition, choice and diversity.
And now the Australian commercial radio lobby wants to do the same thing to radio broadcasting? You have got to be kidding me?