The Australian Parliament passed legislation in May 2007 to implement a framework for the introduction of digital radio services in Australia. The introduction of digital radio is not related to the switchover to digital television and digital radio services will continue to operate alongside, rather than replace, existing analog (AM and FM) radio services.
Under the framework, digital radio has been introduced in a staged manner, with digital radio services first introduced by radio broadcasters in areas where they are most likely to be commercially viable. For this reason, planning for the introduction of digital radio initially focused on the five mainland state capitals, with other areas to be considered subsequently, on the basis of broadcaster interest. During May and June 2009 the radio industry switched on digital radio services in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.
The framework allows for broadcasters in areas outside of the five mainland state capitals to approach the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) about the planning of digital radio services in their licence area. The ACMA considers any approach on a case-by-case basis where sufficient spectrum is available. Listeners in the Illawarra region who would like to receive digital radio services may wish to contact their local commercial broadcasters to encourage them to commence services.
There is currently a lack of suitable spectrum for digital radio services as they use the same part of the radiofrequency spectrum as existing analog and digital television services. The situation is unlikely to improve before the switch off of analog television in 2013 and, potentially, the restack of digital television services to realise the digital dividend is completed. This latter process is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.
In the meantime, as part of the planning process for the restack, the ACMA is retaining 14 Megahertz of VHF spectrum (equivalent to two television channels) for digital radio in each licence area in Australia. However, spectrum and technical constraints mean that any planning to extend coverage of digital radio to regional areas will remain a complex matter even after restack has been completed.
Information regarding developments in the roll out of digital radio may be found on the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s website: www.acma.gov.au