Alston flags convergence of airwave regulators

In a significant tactical move in the growing media consolidation debate, Communications Minister, Richard Alston, has flagged the government’s intention to merge communications regulatory bodies the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA).

A statement issued by his office said: “Convergence of communications technologies and markets is placing increasing pressure on existing institutional arrangements for sector regulators, and there is merit in considering the integration of the agencies.

“The current structure of the ABA and ACA has been an effective means of regulating the diverse communications industries. However, changes in industry structures and new technologies mean it is now appropriate to re-examine these arrangements.”

The announcement signals a clear intention from the government that the media bargaining chips of datacasting, digital radio and associated data-broadcast services are now firmly back on the bargaining table, albeit with little specific detail as to what powers the new authority would or would not have.

At present the ABA covers radio and television broadcast regulation, while the ACA covers regulation of data and telephony and civilian RF spectrum.

A senior source within a television network said the move could potentially represent an effort to ramp up the “persistently sagging” share price of Telstra prior to a sell-off.

“There’s no doubt they are trying to rev-up this space at the moment,” the source said. “They probably expect industry to do all the thinking for them too.

I’d want to see some real detail on it first though. There’s a fair amount of downside risk here for a lot of players too.”

If the merger is successful, the proposed authority would cover the entire gamut of digital and analog telephony, datacasting, wireless, radio, television and Internet.

An spokesman for Alston said that a “definitive discussion paper” would be released imminently and that a decision was anticipated by the end of the year.

He refused to comment on speculation that any union between the ABA and the ACA would beget the ADA — the Australian Digital Authority.