The report sets out the Convergence Review Committee's vision for fundamental change to the regulatory framework of Australia's digital economy, and identifies key areas for reform.
On the eve of 2012 we face a media content and communications landscape that is changing rapidly. Tablet devices that only became widely available two years ago are now being sold at a faster rate than laptop computers worldwide. Smartphones that were launched five years ago are forecast to represent 90% of local phone sales in three years. The popularity of these connected devices is driven by a wave of new content and applications available from global services that are changing the shape of the Australian content and communications market. One of the few certainties is that the change we have witnessed in recent years will only increase in pace.
Australia is in a unique position to benefit from these changes. With the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), fast broadband will be a utility available to all, providing a new underpinning to business and society. Universal fast broadband will transform access to a range of services including news and information, entertainment, education, health, commerce and the arts. It will also open up possibilities for all Australians to participate in content creation and to access services not yet contemplated, particularly for those in regional and remote areas. This new infrastructure could embed the digital economy at the centre of Australian life. With a country of early technology adopters, experienced content makers and a strong information technology base, we are well placed to maximise the potential of our communications infrastructure.
Australia’s digital creative industries are in a position to benefit from these changes. We can expand our content production in traditional screen business and develop excellence in areas like apps for tablets and smartphones. These industries can flourish in a converged environment that opens up new trade routes and cultural interactions with the rest of the world, where global distribution is virtually free. Our regional ties to Asia and our working in English could allow us to build an important hub of content and technology development.
More of our social and cultural lives are occurring in the digital realm. Maintaining access to a range of information, news and current affairs and ensuring availability of Australian content remain vitally important to our democracy and cultural diversity.
Overall, the Australian content and communications industry is in good shape. We received feedback during consultations that Australians are generally well served by a strong industry. However, given the opportunities offered by convergence, it is timely to rethink our approach. Australia would benefit from a new policy framework that reflects the vitality of services provided on new and existing communications infrastructure. There should be a flexible approach to regulation that can keep pace with these opportunities. Policy and regulatory levers will need to promote open access, competition and innovation. They will also need to encourage a range of voices and provide incentives and government support to ensure that Australian and local content are still widely available in a global environment.
Whilst technology has eroded the traditional divisions between free‑to‑air (FTA) television and the internet, newspapers and websites, radio and streaming services, our policy and regulation is still based on the industry and service structures of the early 1990s.
Calibrating the policy and regulatory framework for the new environment is vital. The reforms recommended by the Convergence Review will require fundamental changes to communications legislation.
This interim report outlines some key areas where reform is needed to deliver a vibrant content and communications industry. These reforms have been inspired by the many submissions we have received during our work and the Committee continues to formulate its findings using this feedback. Further details of these reforms are being developed for our final report to government in March 2012.