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ACMA makes free-to-air satellite TV paid service as Imparja wins right to charge

December 05, 2008
ACMA makes free-to-air satellite TV paid service as Imparja wins right  to charge

By Garth Morrison Editor GoSeeAustralia and GoSee New Zealand

Imparja Television will now charge to reconnect satellite TV decoder cards. Australian travellers get another kick in the hip pocket and;

the Rudd government and AMCA seem tobe bent on free-to-air being a paid service.

A response from Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy is now in Users Letters and Opinions - 3rd option on the left ofthe GoSeeHome Page.

Imparja told GoSeeAustralia that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has agreed to them charging and administration fee of $55 to process free satellite TV decoder connection for 12 months for Australian travellers and the black spots in Imparja's 6 million square kilometre licenced service area.

If the satellite card connection drops out (and it often does as travellers do not use their equipment all the time) a further $33 administration fee will be charged to reconnect each time.

GoSee believes its good for Imparja but another kick in the hip pocket for Australian travellers.

GoSee is concerned that the ACMA's move to allow Imparja to charge satellite decoder card reconnection administration fees mean that all free TV channels will become paid services.

GoSee understood that the government undertaking was that there would always be a free-to-air component for Australians which would always have quality elements.

Before the ACMA agreed to an Aministration fee being charged Imparja told GoSee that they had stopped renewal of satellite decoder cards from October 1 because of lack of resources and funds.

GoSee contacted Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy by email through his department on November 11. A link was also sent to the first GoSee Imparja Info Article.

GoSee has no direct response from Senator Conroy. But an approach to Joanna Gash the Opposition Shadow Spokesperson for Road Tourism produced an email response to her request for information from Andrew Lanigan, Office of Senator Conroy, that - A response will be sent to your office directly. That was on November 17.

On Wednesday, December 10 - Joanna Gash wrote to Senator Conroy to express her concern at the impact on the road tourism industry with many Australians opting to holiday in Australia rather than overseas -

This is what she had to say - It has been brought to my notice that the Australian Communications and Media Authority has given approval for Imparja to charge an administration fee for what is ostensibly supposed to be a free to air service.

A fee of $55 to process free satellite TV decoder connection for 12 months will apply. Further, a fee of $33 will apply for each reconnection of such a service should it be lost.

If this is true, then I am concerned at the impact it will have on the Roads Tourism industry, especially at a time when many Australians are opting to take holidays at home rather than overseas.

I am reliably informed that whereas Roads Tourism, especially caravanning has been the preferred domain of the retiree aged group, evidence is emerging that younger families are entering the market.

I further understand that web based, Go See Australia has been in contact with you for comment. Clearly this is a concern for many caravanners and I would prefer that in these parlous economic times, additional impediments to consumer spending are not introduced.

You would be aware that a few months ago, I took a caravan on a fact finding tour through South Eastern Australia and one of the frustrations I met was the inability to get a radio signal for my mobile phone and lap top computer in certain places.

As if this is not frustrating enough, the added irritation of paying for a free service and reconnection fees coupled with poor reception along well travelled and popular routes has the potential discourage intending holiday makers.

As a Member representing a premier tourist destination and an electorate relying heavily on the tourism trade, I am opposed to any impediment to domestic tourism.

At a time when the government itself is promoting stimulatory spending in the domestic economy, this latest impost is simply unacceptable and completely out of keeping with the situation.

I urge you to intervene to ensure that Imparja remains free to air both in reputation and in practice.

Westprint Friday Five Eletter raises the real concerns for thousands of Australian travellers and offers an obvious overall free-to-air solution -

Even if you have not yet got a satellite dish and may even never get one, you may still want to watch the cricket or footy on someone else's setup, Friday Five said.

Campersat controls are easy to use
Campersat controls are easy to use

The following is said to be a copy of an unsigned emailed letter which is reported to have been sent to the minister. GoSee presumes, that this means Senator Stephen Conroy Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

GoSee cannot vouch for its authenticity but the sentiments expressed are shared by travellers throughout Australia.

Dear Sir,

I am a self-funded retiree and have joined the thousands of grey nomads touring this great country. My wife and I have been travelling for 3 years now and part of the enjoyment in our life style, has been the ability to travel and enjoy remote areas of Australia.

In fact, we spend most of our time in these areas well away from the east coast of Australia.

We have had a traveller's permit to view free to air satellite for these past 3 years and it has enabled us to follow our favourite TV programs, especially sport, such as cricket and the Olympic Games, no matter where we are in remote areas.

The process until now has involved us reapplying with both commercial stations every six months to keep our decoder cards working. No doubt this is an unnecessary administrative burden on the stations involved.

However, this enjoyment is about to end.

The free to air TV stations are now about to stop giving us travellers the licence to watch satellite TV in remote areas, because they will no longer switch on our decoders.

Surely we could be allowed to apply just once, and thereafter have the ability indefinitely to watch satellite TV. This would save the on-going and time consuming administrative burden on the stations involved by not having to renew everybodys access every six months. Editor's Note:(12 months in the Imparja paid service structure).

This decision by Imparja (to start with and probably to be followed by Central 7) to no longer cater for travellers will affect many of the 250,000 (industry fig is 350,000) people in caravans and mobile homes.

Most of these are pensioners and self-funded retirees.

Sir, it is a simple request we ask for. We are not asking for money or handouts. Just the means of watching free-to-air television like all other fellow citizens. We have already invested our own money into satellite dishes and decoders to give us this freedom of choice.

Imparja is a private, fully commercial television company registered in the Northern Territory. It is unique in Australia and the world, being totally owned and controlled by Northern Territory and South Australian Aboriginal shareholders, who have never requested nor received a dividend, preferring to invest any profit back into the development of the company.

Broadcasting live via retransmission sites at Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Leigh Creek and Woomera in South Australia; Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory,

As well as indigenous and locally produced programs, Imparja purchases its programming from the Nine Network. Imparja is broadcast to an audience of over 430,000 people.

Through access to digital satellite capacity, Imparja also broadcasts a second channel, NITV (National Indigenous TV).

Imparja receives some Federal funding through the Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy (DBCDE) for the provision of services and training.

GoSeeAustralia takes Satellite TV on the road
GoSeeAustralia takes Satellite TV on the road

As part of this funding Imparja manages the satellite service for NITV as well as eight indigenous radio stations which are uplinked for Imparja's Alice Springs operation.

All of these services sit within the Imparja social platform, which sees the company, with some assistance of the Federal Government, deliver in excess of $3.2 million of benefit to the community and indigenous organizations on an annual basis.

Imparja says intensive planning is underway for the predicted legislative changes for a move to digital broadcasting in remote and regional areas of Australia.

GoSee understands that the switch to digital will have a negative result for Australians in black spots within the Imparja six million square kilometre licence area.

GoSee understands that the Imparja service has also been accessed by some New Zealanders who have been taking advantage of the free-to-air service.

An Australian satellite industry source told GoSee that pirates cracked the Irdeto 1 and 2 encoded satellite card system back in 1999.

That led to pirated Foxtel being freely available. Foxtel shut the gate, but Austar did not and ABC and SBS did nothing much until 2007 when they started changing keys.

The source estimates that about 30,000 of the Irdeto cards let pirates in. Legitimate industry has paid ever since, the source says.

Satellite encrypted cards are purchased in bulk by legitimate businesses. The industry price from Optus is between $50 and $70 a card. For small business this is a constant budget issue.

Why is encryption necessary?

The source says programming rights, network control and network licence protection are among the main arguments for encryption.

One obvious (but unlikely) solution for travellers is to do away with encryption , the source told GoSee. It is afterall an Australian aberration with few if any parallels in the free-to-air world

In terms of Australian travellers major networks like 9 and 7 could easily adopt a - why both response? the source said.

Now based on the Imparja agreement they could also ask the ACMA to allow them to charge Administration fees to service free services.

Travellers on the move are not by their nature a fixed audience for ad sales. Viewing and listening time (in the case of radio) is often relatively brief and frequently spaced with breaks of days or even weeks.

This leads to service back-up costs when the user finds, after not using satellite gear for sometime, reconnection is both tedious and frustrating for both user and the provider. Data stream set-up to a satellite might take from two to eight hours.

The big frustration for regular traveller satellite users who have their gear right up to scratch and know what they are doing is to find they cannot get a signal (reception black spot) because the designated provider, who has exclusive rights, does not provide service, the source said.

This leads to the Imparja situation. Australian Travellers and some New Zealanders faced by this reality looked for and found Imparja as one free-to-air option which is now back on the air as a paid administration service.

Editors Note: A byline on a GoSee Info Article indicates editorial opinion.
GoSee believes that Australian travellers are entitled to TV reception. Commercial operators are given a licence - monopoly to provide service to all Australians.

Editor's Note: Here are a series of Australian touring features from the extensive GoSee library.

The Joanna Gash feature takes a specific on the road look at Australian touring needs.

LNBF settings come from the polarisation chart
LNBF settings come from the polarisation chart