Welcome to the first issue of Communications News.
This online newsletter will be a way of keeping you up to date and informed about happenings in the Communications, Information Technology and the Arts portfolio.
2006 has been a busy year with many achievements not least of which was the full privatisation of Telstra and the passage of a significant package of reforms to Australia’s media industry.
The Australian Government also bolstered our support for Internet safety with the $116.6 million Protecting Australian Families Online package which will provide every Australian family and public library with free Internet filters to help make everyone’s online experience a safer one.
This first issue of Communications News looks at some of the highlights of 2006. From next year Communications News will hit your in-box regularly, outlining current issues in the portfolio and profiling a portfolio agency.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Communications News.
Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Ready, Get Set, Go Digital!
As technology evolves, consumers are demanding always-on, anywhere access to their favourite content—whether it is on the television, their mobile phone or their computer.
It is this passion for new services and improved technology that is driving the international switch to digital. Digital television is more efficient, more interactive, offers better picture and sound quality and delivers new services to consumers.
Across the globe, governments are considering how best to help their countries make the digital switch. For its part, the Australian Government wants to work towards a digital Australia for the many benefits it brings.
As the world rapidly goes digital, it is important that all Australians are equipped for the transition from analogue to digital television. With this in mind I recently launched Ready, Get Set, Go Digital—A Digital Action Plan for Australia which outlines the key steps the Government will take to prepare Australia for digital switchover.
Digital switchover is a key element of a package of broader reforms to the Australian media landscape. As part of these reforms, Australian consumers will see the emergence of a range of new, digital-only services to help make the digital experience more attractive. New digital channels will emerge and current free-to-air broadcasters will be able to boost their range of services with secondary digital channels.
In addition to improved picture and sound quality and new services for Australian consumers, the switch to digital will also deliver a digital dividend to all Australians by bringing to an end the costly simulcast period and freeing up valuable spectrum for better and more efficient use.
Over the next few years Australian will hear more and more about digital – its benefits, new channels that will be on offer and information about Australia’s transition to digital switchover which will commence in 2010–12.
The switchover is also a key element of a package of broader reforms to the Australian media landscape that were passed by Parliament earlier this year. As a result of these reforms, Australian consumers will soon see a whole new range of new ‘digital only’ services.
During the transition to digital television, the Government’s priority is consumers. We want to ensure that all Australians can benefit from the switch to digital. The Government will work closely with the broadcasting industry to ensure the transition to digital switchover is as smooth as possible and keep consumers informed every step of the way.
Protecting Australian Families Online
The Australian Government is helping parents protect their children from offensive content with simple to use Internet filters through the $116.6 million Protecting Australian Families Online package.
The centrepiece of the package is the National Filter Scheme which will offer every Australian family and public library free Internet filters.
Families will be able to access the filters by a CD-ROM, by downloading it from a dedicated website or by choosing a filtered service through their Internet service provider. Children will also be protected at Australian libraries which will receive the free filters so child-friendly computers can be set-up.
This package provides Australian families with the best filtering technology while recognising the need for each family to tailor the filter to their individual values. Another benefit of this approach is that it ensures the Government does not burden commercial and adult users of the Internet with mandated one-size fits all filtering or a single value code for all online users.
Although filters will allow parents to set access limits, education and parental awareness will continue to play an important role in protecting children online. Parents will still need to continue to monitor their child’s use of the Internet and update filter settings as required.
In 2007, the Australian Government will conduct a community information campaign to advise parents how they can access free filters and Internet safety information.
In the meantime online safety information is available from the Australian Government’s Internet safety advisory body NetAlert at www.netalert.org.au or by calling 1800 880 176.
Boost to Broadband
Broadband is quickly moving to the status of critical infrastructure. Some have even likened it to the fifth utility after water, gas, electricity and roads.
In the future, broadband will not only underpin our continued economic growth and lead to improvements in business productivity, it will also play an increasingly central role in our entertainment choices and how we stay in touch with family and friends.
The Broadband Connect and Clever Networks programs, as part of the Australian Government’s $1.1 billion Connect Australia package are focused on developing broadband infrastructure and encouraging better use of its capabilities.
The $878 million Broadband Connect program supports equitable access to high quality, sustainable broadband services across regional and rural Australia. The first phase of the program pays a subsidy to Internet Service Providers to connect customers in areas where a broadband connection is hard to get. This subsidy model has already resulted in more than one million extra broadband connections in Australia.
I recently announced the second phase of Broadband Connect which encourages the roll-out of large scale, sustainable and scalable networks across Australia. This builds on the billion dollar investment the Australian Government has already made in rural, regional and remote communications.
As part of this program, up to $600 million will be made available to support large scale infrastructure projects to extend the reach of broadband, particularly through encouraging private sector rollouts of broadband infrastructure.
The $113 million Clever Networks program will help support the use of advanced broadband technologies in sectors such as health, education, government, as well as community and emergency services in rural, regional and remote Australia.
To support this rollout of broadband infrastructure I recently released a Broadband Blueprint for Australia which aims to ensure Australia becomes a world leader in the effective use of broadband. The Blueprint will help coordinate investment from all tiers of government as well as the private sector to ensure there is no costly duplication.
Staying Smart Online
The Internet provides Australians of all ages with a wide variety of educational, business and entertainment opportunities from banking and shopping, to communicating with family and friends. It is important that Australians use common sense when online, and that they take proactive steps to secure their computers.
In October, I launched the Australian Government’s new e-security website www.staysmartonline.gov.au
The site contains practical advice and tips for securing your computer, conducting safe transactions and keeping kids safe.
The site has quizzes to test your knowledge on spam, wireless security and online shopping. And it features a free new e-security subscriber alert service that will help you keep up to date with the latest vulnerabilities and provide advice on how to protect yourself online.
The Australian Government continues to work collaboratively with its counterparts overseas to examine the issue of online security, but it is important that individuals think about security when setting up a computer and when online.
An end to pesky telemarketing calls
The Australian Government’s Do Not Call Register, which will help crack down on nuisance telemarketers, is on schedule to be operational by the first half of 2007. Legislation to set-up the Register was passed by Parliament in June 2006 as a direct response to community concern about the growing number of unsolicited telemarketing calls.
It is expected that there will be a high level of demand from individuals who wish to place their phone numbers on the Register when it is up and running. As many as one million numbers are expected to be registered in the first week alone.
The Do Not Call Register will enable individuals to register both their home and mobile numbers that are used primarily or exclusively for private or domestic use. It will then be illegal for telemarketers both in Australia and overseas to contact the numbers. Organisations with which you have an established relationship (i.e. your bank, your telephone company etc) will still be able to contact you.
Charities, political parties and candidates as well as educational institutions will still be able to call numbers listed on the Register but their conduct will be restricted by a standard which ensures they do not call after certain hours.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority will establish and oversee the operation of the Do Not Call Register. The tender process for the operation of the Register has already begun.
The Do Not Call Register will give peace of mind to those who don't like, and indeed resent, the intrusion and disruption caused by unsolicited telemarketing calls.
More protection for mobile phone users
The Government is firmly committed to protecting consumers, particularly children, from inappropriate content whether delivered via mobile phone or the Internet.
In October, I announced a new scheme from the mobile phone industry that will address community concerns about aspects of new and emerging mobile premium services.
The scheme will make it easier for people to unsubscribe from a premium service on a mobile phone, provide better protection for children against inappropriate content and ensure there is better information about the costs of these services.
This scheme is an example of how industry and Government can work together to protect consumers. It will require content providers to give consumers more information about the costs, terms and conditions of using mobile premium services, including how to unsubscribe from subscription services.
The scheme was developed in response to Government and community concerns that with the continuing rise of mobile phone ownership, children may have broader access to material that is considered suitable only for adults.
Moving into the next generation
I recently welcomed Telstra’s $1 billion investment in the ‘Next G’ network which will provide improved voice and broadband services to around 98 per cent of the population including all areas currently covered by CDMA.
While this new investment is welcome, it is important that consumers are protected in the transition from the existing CMDA mobile network to the new 3G network.
Telstra has committed to not switching off the CDMA network until coverage under the ‘Next G’ network is the same, or better, than CDMA.
To ensure a smooth transition to 3G, I have asked the Australian Communications and Media Authority to conduct independent audits of the coverage of Telstra’s CDMA mobile phone network and then compare it to the ‘Next G’ network.
The audits will assess the voice coverage of more than 80 sites across different states and will go a long way towards providing consumers with the confidence they need during the transition to the new network.
Visit to Israel
In early November I led a trade mission to Israel, organised by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
I was accompanied by more than 40 representatives from Australian organisations including the ABC, CSIRO ICT Centre and the National Australia Bank.
The mission was an opportunity for Australian leaders from the ICT, digital media, broadcasting, telecommunications, and venture capital sectors to meet senior Israeli business leaders and highlight Australia’s capabilities (particularly in the area of IT). It was a valuable opportunity to explore closer collaboration and investment.
Trade between Australia and Israel has grown from $10 million in 1970 to over $800 million today. However there is real scope to expand this relationship even further and for Australia to become a more significant trading partner and collaborator with Israel. A number of Australian delegates have reported they are now pursuing business opportunities as a result of the trade mission.
During the visit I was also able to meet Israel's Foreign Minister and Communications Minister, as well as give a speech to the Prime Minister's Conference on Telecommunications and attend the Israel Telecom 2006 exhibition.
Because Israel is one of the most important centres of high-tech development, entrepreneurship and advanced technological research and development outside the United States, I look forward to seeing the benefits of increased longer term collaboration between our two countries.
Portfolio profile—Australia Post
More than one million customers around the country are served by Australia Post every business day by a team of nearly 35 000 staff.
The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that Australia has a reliable, affordable and accessible postal service. The Government recognises how important this is, in particular for people living in rural and remote Australia for whom Australia Post is a vital community asset. There are 4462 Australia Post outlets around the country and 2563 of these are in rural and remote areas.
In the 2005–06 financial year, Australia Post recorded revenue of $4.53 billion. It also reported some staggering statistics—5.42 billion mail items were handled in the last year alone, with 95.6 per cent of domestic letters delivered on time.
During the last year Australia Post, as a Government Business Enterprise met or exceeded its community service obligations.
Heading into 2007 and beyond, Australia Post is aiming to extend the three main areas of their core business which includes letters, retail and agency services, and parcels and logistics.