Australia: ACMA’s Top Six Trends

Last Updated: 10 December 2008
Article by Rohan Singh and Chris Bevitt

In May 2008, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) published its report entitled Top Six Trends in Communications and Media Technologies, Applications and Services – Possible Implications. ACMA is responsible for advising the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

In its report, ACMA attempts to identify the issues affecting regulation of the communications and media sector and the impact that these issues may have on ACMA's function.

The six major trends identified in the report, are:

  1. the accelerating pace of change;
  2. diversity in the development of physical infrastructure;
  3. the spread of distributed connectivity;
  4. enhanced content and network management capabilities;
  5. the emerging social web; and
  6. continuing scientific and technological innovation.

Below is a summary of ACMA's report.

Pace of change

Available and emerging technologies are making it more and more practicable for businesses of any size to offer services internationally, for users to take part in the generation of content and provision of services, and for users to access services from mobile devices.

The accelerating evolution in communications and media business models results in a game of regulatory cat and mouse as ACMA must regularly review existing legislation to identify gaps in Australia's laws and recommend solutions to fill those gaps.

ACMA's report advocates regular scanning and analysis of developments and their relevance to existing legislation in consultation with research institutions and standardisation bodies both in Australia and internationally with a view to developing a more flexible, and therefore sustainable, regulatory framework.

However, as ACMA's report points out, the pace of technological change will always outstrip the speed at which the legislature can react and already a market exists in which almost anyone can effectively become an international broadcaster.

ACMA is therefore considering how traditional regulation might be supplemented, such as by international collaboration, self-regulation and consumer education.

ACMA also indicates that due to content and platform convergence, it will monitor the need for change in the regulation of:

  1. content delivery over stand-alone technologies;
  2. voice services on IP networks, including whether the offer of VoIP services should be subject to the obligations of standard telephone service providers and carriage service providers; and
  3. the broadcasting services bands of the radiofrequency spectrum.

Physical infrastructure

The issues of interest to ACMA outlined in the report are:

Broadband – access to broadband and quality of service; allocation of spectrum for wireless broadband.

Digital broadcasting – allocation of broadcasting spectrum made available following the closure of analogue transmission; industry standardisation and bandwidth capacity issues arising from the introduction of high definition services; the development of IPTV.

Smart radio – managing the introduction of new services while balancing the rights of existing service providers (including the protection of conventional devices from interference).

Sensor networks – managing regulatory barriers to mass deployment; public health risks due to placing sensors near or inside the human body; data privacy.

Mesh networks – defining responsibility for providing network access and for providing access to restricted or illegal content.

Efficiency techniques in multimedia transmission – management of a greater susceptibility to interference if content is delivered over a narrower spectrum bandwidth.

Location-sensing and context-aware technologies – managing personal data privacy and security; service accuracy and reliability.

Intelligent transport – introduction of an extensive roadside radiocommunications infrastructure.

Satellite services – access to appropriate spectrum that is harmonised internationally; protection from interference.

Distributed connectivity

Users, rather than service providers, are increasingly controlling the use of applications and services including for voice services, social interaction and file sharing. This includes the use of peer-to-peer networks, increasingly more powerful computers and low cost data storage in the hands of the end user used in an environment with greater flexibility of IP services, including VoIP and IPTV.

ACMA is considering the appropriate focus and responsibility for regulation. The need for digital literacy and the growing importance of consumer education are of interest to ACMA, as are the issues of network boundaries, interconnectivity and interoperability. In relation to VoIP, ACMA is considering how existing voice services regulations apply and how it should approach education and compliance with regulations.

Emerging content and network management technologies

The key issues identified by ACMA are content monitoring, security and identity management technologies and energy efficiency applications.

While content monitoring technologies could be used by law enforcement in security operations, or by ISPs to ease congestion by prioritising the flow of data, regulations must balance the fact that they have significant potential for abuse for anti-competitive practices and monitoring of confidential content. ACMA is also interested in learning how end users use content monitoring technologies, such as for restricting access to certain content.

While ACMA does not have primary responsibility for protecting intellectual property rights, it is interested in digital rights management (DRM) as regards industry standardisation of DRM and the privacy issues raised when access control is tied to individual user identities.

ACMA has identified that it may have a role in promoting energy efficiency through industry co-regulation. The communications industry is a major user of energy in its infrastructure but can also facilitate the use of technologies such as video and web conferencing to reduce the need for individuals to travel for work.

The emerging "social web"

The explosion of user generated content (UGC) available online has prompted ACMA to consider the evolving concept of broadcasting. It has identified a number of industry and regulatory issues, including the development of open standards for identity and information security, platform interoperability and privacy.

Continuing scientific and technological innovation

ACMA has identified that innovations in computing processor power, display technologies, nanotechnology and even artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to drive advances in the communications and media sector. ACMA intends to monitor developments in these areas as they shape where content may be made available, including monitoring demands on the radiofrequency spectrum, and who bears responsibility for decisions made by AI.

ACMA has commenced further research into the issues identified in the report and expects to release its findings regarding follow-up action by the end of 2008.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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