Convergence questions and answers
The Convergence Review
- What is the Convergence Review?
- What does the government hope to achieve from the Convergence Review?
- Why is a Convergence Review required?
- What media and communications services has the Convergence Review covered?
- Who conducted the Convergence Review?
- What are the next steps for the Convergence Review?
Scope of the review
- How does the Convergence Review relate to the National Broadband Network?
- How does the Convergence Review relate to the switchover to digital-only television?
- Has the Convergence Review considered telephony and voice services?
- Has the Convergence Review considered anti-siphoning issues?
- Has the Convergence Review considered copyright issues?
- Has the Convergence Review considered classification issues?
- What is the relationship between the Convergence Review and the Independent Media Inquiry?
What is convergence?
- 'Convergence' describes the trend whereby devices (such as televisions, mobile phones and computers) and platforms (such as broadcast, telecommunications and broadband) that once had distinct functions may now support many different services and applications.
- You can now watch a TV show on your television, your computer or your phone. You can also make a phone call from your laptop and access the internet from you phone. These examples illustrate the trend of convergence—when the service experienced by the consumer is similar regardless of the network or device that delivers it.
- Convergence is driven by a range of evolving and new technologies including internet protocol networks, high-speed broadband and smart devices and phones.
How is convergence affecting us?
- Australians are now able to access an ever-increasing pool of content and services via a range of different devices and platforms. They have more control than ever before over what they watch, when they watch it, and how.
- There are substantial benefits stemming from this trend, including enhanced competition and consumer choice.
- There are also a range of challenges, including:
- ensuring that service providers are treated the same as is possible regardless of the technology they use
- protecting Australian culture, community values and citizens' rights as the amount of available content increases and new forms of access develop
- maintaining a diverse, competitive and innovative media market.
- Australian businesses are also facing a changed environment. New opportunities are opening up for existing and emerging players, and methods of interacting with customers are enhanced. At the same time, audiences are fragmenting as they choose services that best reflect their needs, such as viewing on-demand content via the internet or a mobile device.
How can I find out more about convergence?
- The department prepared a Convergence Review Background Paper that provides a high-level overview of what convergence is, why the review is necessary and what the trends are that are driving convergence. This background paper provides context for the scope of the review.
- The review's Emerging Issues paper provides a high-level description of the key issues considered by the committee.
- The Review Committee has also released five detailed discussion papers as part of consultations to inform the review. The discussion papers provide a more in-depth look at each of the key groups of issues identified by the committee.
What is the Convergence Review?
- The Convergence Review is a landmark review of the regulation of media and communications in Australia.
- The review considered the existing regulatory framework applying to media and communications services including broadcast and mobile, in addition to internet content such as websites, internet applications and both audio and audiovisual material.
- It has also examined whether current regulation and policy frameworks remain the most appropriate and effective means in a converging environment.
- The review aimed to ensure that media and communications services are provided within an environment that fosters competition, is technology-neutral, encourages a diversity of voices, and protects Australian culture, community values and citizens' rights.
What does the government hope to achieve from the Convergence Review?
- The government aims to identify appropriate regulatory and industry tools and mechanisms to ensure an effective governance framework. The framework will need to fulfil policy priorities such as competition, a diversity of voices, availability of Australian cultural content and support for community values and citizens' rights.
Why is a Convergence Review required?
- Australians have access to a far wider range of media content and services than ever before, and are able to create and consume media on their own terms.
- Content is no longer tied to the platform it is delivered over, and new business models are emerging as a result.
- These developments are bringing exciting new opportunities, but also necessitate a fresh look at the regulatory framework for media and communications in Australia.
- Such changes as the above are emphasised by the government's commitment to build the National Broadband Network (NBN) and switch from analog transmission to digital-only transmission to ensure that Australian consumers and business are able to take advantage of technology trends.
- While these developments are still underway, we have a rare opportunity to determine how best to manage the provision of media and communications services in this new environment.
- Many of the objectives of the current regulatory framework remain important, including the protection of Australian culture, and ensuring that Australian standards, values, and community expectations are upheld. The Convergence Review has identified how the government's ability to achieve these objectives through the existing regulatory framework has changed—and will continue to change—due to technological developments. The Review Committee has provided recommendations to the government on how best to achieve its objectives in the face of convergence.
What media and communications services has the Convergence Review covered?
- The review will consider all media and communications services relevant to the terms of reference. These include, but are not limited, to television, radio and the internet.
Who conducted the Convergence Review?
- The Convergence Review Committee was chaired by Glen Boreham and also consisted of Malcolm Long and Louise McElvogue.
- The Review Committee conducted the review with support from a dedicated secretariat from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
- More information about the committee members is available on the committee members page.
What are the next steps for the Convergence Review?
- The Committee has handed its final report to government, and it is now available from the Convergence Review landing page.
- In announcing the public release of the Final Report of the Convergence Review, the minister stated in a media release that the government will formally respond to the review in due course.
How does the Convergence Review relate to the National Broadband Network (NBN)?
- The NBN will ensure that Australian consumers and businesses are able to enjoy the economic and social benefits of convergence and participation in a global digital economy. The NBN is likely to accelerate changes already occurring in the media and communications services market.
- The NBN will provide the ideal platform for a range of devices in homes to access rich content services—including a large selection of TV-like services such as IPTV, internet TV and video on demand, all of which compete with traditional broadcasting services for viewers.
- The growing range of content services that the NBN will carry places the onus on government to provide an effective regulatory environment that promotes consumer choice and reflects the expectations of the community.
How does the Convergence Review relate to the switchover to digital-only television?
- Switching off analog TV signals and the transition to digital-only free-to-air television broadcasting will produce a digital dividend of 126 megahertz of broadcasting spectrum. This then becomes available for other communications services and could possibly support future technological innovations, which in turn may further drive the trend of convergence.
- The switch to digital television offers viewers improved picture and sound quality and greater program choice with access to new digital channels. Through the digital switchover program, viewers in regional and remote areas of Australia will, for the first time, have access to the same number of free-to-air TV channels as is available in the capital cities.
Has the Convergence Review considered telephony and voice services?
- The review focussed on media and content issues, not on telephony and voice services.
- Telecommunications issues are important within the convergence trend. However, at present in Australia there are significant changes to the telecommunications landscape occurring as a result of the rollout of the NBN and the establishment of the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA)—a government entity that will, among other things, assume some responsibilities under the Universal Service Obligation. A number of other issues may be subject to change as the government undertakes a series of legislative reforms associated with the NBN.
- The government considers it premature to conduct a fundamental review of basic telephony obligations while these significant changes are occurring.
- The government considers that media regulation, of audiovisual services in particular, is under the most strain from convergence trends. The government's investment in the NBN will accelerate these trends and, as such, it is important that media regulation is considered as a priority.
Has the Convergence Review considered anti-siphoning issues?
- While the Review has considered issues relating to the carriage of sporting and other cultural events across media platforms, the anti-siphoning list for sports was recently reviewed by the government.
- As a consequence, while the Review has taken into account implications arising from the list, detailed changes to it have not formed part of the recommendations of the Final Report.
- For details please see the report 'Sport on Television: A review of the anti-siphoning scheme in the contemporary digital environment'.
Has the Convergence Review considered copyright issues?
- The government recognises that any discussion of the production and distribution of Australian content raises issues of copyright in the digital age.
- The review has taken into account copyright and the ongoing protection of content in a converged environment in its Final Report, however ultimately it is the Attorney-General who will determine these matters.
- Attorney-General Nicola Roxon announced in February 2012 that Professor Jill McKeough will lead an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) review into the operation of copyright in the digital environment.
Has the Convergence Review considered classification issues?
- The government asked the ALRC on 24 March 2011 to review the National Classification System to accommodate and better anticipate technological and other developments, and the final report was tabled on 1 March 2012.
- The Convergence Review has taken into account the recommendations of the ALRC review.
- The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 authorises a number of regulatory schemes for the classification and regulation of content delivered over spectrum (broadcast and mobile content) and the internet, including the commercial and subscription television codes of practice.
- The review has considered whether these regulatory arrangements remain appropriate in a converged environment.
- The review has also incorporated the statutory review of Schedule 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, which provides a scheme for dealing with prohibited content on the internet.
What is the relationship between the Convergence Review and the Independent Media Inquiry?
- On 14th September, the government announced an independent inquiry focusing on print media regulation, including online publications, and the operation of the Press Council.
- The inquiry was conducted by former Federal Court judge, Ray Finkelstein QC, with assistance from former journalist, Professor Matthew Ricketson of Canberra University.
- The recommendations made in the final report of the Convergence Review have taken into account the findings made by the Independent Media Inquiry.
- The Report of the Independent Media Inquiry was released by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on 2 March 2012. The associated media release is on the minister’s website and the Report of the Independent Media Inquiry is available from the website of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.