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Thread: Govt review of VAST released today, $10m funding

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    Default Govt review of VAST released today, $10m funding

    Additional funding for satellite television service

    03 January 2019

    Minister for Regional Services Senator Bridget McKenzie today announced $10 million in additional funding to secure the Viewer Access Satellite Television Service (VAST) for regional Australians until 2021.

    VAST provides commercial and national television services free-to-air to around 500,000 Australian viewers in regional Australia, including 30,000 travellers.

    “Many Australians living in our regions rely on this service, and the Government’s investment will provide the peace of mind that their service will continue,” Minister McKenzie said.

    “Television is a vital entertainment and information service that all Australians should have access to.”

    “VAST ensures that regional Australians can receive reliable free-to-air television broadcasts so that we can all share and participate in cultural, education and social experiences.”

    The VAST service also covers some metropolitan areas where terrestrial transmission services are not able to be economically provided by broadcasters.

    The Government today also released the 2018 review of the VAST service, which includes the key recommendation that the service should continue to be provided through the current satellite delivery model.

    VAST has been operating since 2010, as part of the national switchover to digital television. The $10 million in additional funding will add to more than $127 million in funding committed to the service since 2010. VAST is also supported by contributions from broadcasters.

    The actual review can be downloaded from here:

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    from the pdf doccument

    Related to conditional access is how it is implemented by Optus, which controls the VAST environment via certified set-top boxes. It is important to note that a controlled set-top box environment is not required for conditional access; it is simply one way of implementing it. More commonly, conditional access implementation via a STB is used in subscription-based pay TV models. VAST is not a subscription service but conditional access implementation via the set-top box does operate in the same way. By controlling the set-top box environment, Optus provides access to authorised users only. This type of implementation also ensures control of content and a more secure environment.
    Optus has noted that although conditional access was a result of commercial licence areas, its interest is in regard to implementation, i.e. controlling the VAST environment to ensure there is no interruption of service. Optus noted a controlled set-top box environment enabled the ability to comply with Australian broadcasting standards, deploy firmware updates to STBs, make headend changes, make the platform more efficient, recover more quickly from a transponder failure, and deploy anti-piracy measures.37 The Review acknowledges that an uncontrolled STB environment does not allow for this.

    A closed broadcast environment also protects the broadcasters’ content licence agreements. As noted in section 2.3.5, broadcasters are, in general, not allowed to broadcast into another broadcaster’s licence areas; programming rights are territory-specific, e.g. live sports rights, as noted by the ACMA in its submission.38 EASB also noted in its submission conditional access ensures each broadcaster’s FTA TV service is restricted to its own licence area. Given satellite TV by its very nature is designed for the whole of Australia, the only way to ensure the VAST broadcasters keep viewers restricted to their own licence area is by using a controlled environment.

    As discussed in section 2.3.5, the original decision to implement a conditional access scheme was to protect broadcasting licence areas. At the time, regional broadcasters did not want to lose audience share to VAST where advertising revenues are smaller. The Review notes that there are disincentives for those viewers who receive adequate terrestrial coverage to apply for VAST. The costs of equipment are greater and the STBs have less functionality than non-VAST STBs that are similarly priced (see section 3.1.3). Also, a viewer who has terrestrial access is unlikely to apply for a service that does not receive all the channels available in terrestrial metropolitan and regional licence areas.

    The Review finds the argument of loss of audience share is not a reason for maintaining conditional access. However, ensuring VAST licensees met their obligations in terms of content agreements is a strong reason to keep a controlled environment. By default, the controlled environment provided by VAST-certified set-top boxes allows broadcasters to maintain these agreements.

    Costs of administering conditional access

    Several industry stakeholders noted the cost of administering conditional access. RBAH and WIN contended that all of the administrative overheads and costs were carried by the commercial broadcasters. The ABC and SBS do not provide costs or resourcing to administer conditional access.39 The Review, however, notes that the ABC and SBS, as well as Indigenous radio and television services, are not subject to conditional access arrangements. There is also a time and cost impost on the ACMA to consider appeals, though the Review has been advised by the ACMA that this is fairly minimal.

    RBAH also noted that travellers make up the bulk of contact with the administrator and suggested an administrative ‘one-off fee’ to contribute to costs. Currently, travellers need to reapply every six months to retain access to VAST. The justification for having travellers apply every six months, as advised by the ACMA, was to ensure only genuine travellers applied and to ensure access ceased when they return to their home base.

    The Review notes that current legislation does not deal with travellers. The different conditional access schemes deem travellers to be in Category C and they are issued with a temporary reception certificate. The Review also notes that a conditional access scheme cannot be varied, only replaced and the ACMA must be satisfied the old scheme is not achieving one or more of its statutory objectives.

    The ACMA and Imparja noted they were aware of instances of unauthorised use of VAST where persons were granted traveller licences but lived overseas. The Review understands this is a minor issue with mainly anecdotal evidence, which industry is best placed to address; Imparja, for instance, suggested geoblocking signals outside Australia could be a solution. The Review believes the administration costs of traveller reapplications needs to be balanced against the possibility of misuse but notes a fee for travellers would not prevent any misuse.

    RBAH has provided details on contacts with travellers, estimating 50–65 per cent of call centre interactions were with travellers, including:
    • new registrations followed by the six month renewal cycle
    • being nomadic across states, including seasonal variations, and assistance with technical setup issues
    • processing and verifying decoder registrations where these are and bought and sold
    • replacement decoders activations and old decoder disablements
    • removing expired traveller certificates.

    The Review finds that many of the administrative issues and subsequently cost for RBAH could be removed with an automated application process (in the same way that access to ABC and SBS services are automated) and greater technical help information being available. The Review considers a fee for travellers is unnecessary and there would be less of an administrative burden if travellers were provided with permanent access to VAST.

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