The abolition of content licences and a new "arm's length" regulator that would oversee digital content are just a few of the recommendations the Convergence Review has delivered in its interim report this morning.
The review of the regulatory environment of Australia's communications and media industry was announced in December 2010 and began in April this year after former IBM Australia chief Glen Boreham was appointed as chair.
Since the launch of the review, it has taken over 250 submissions from stakeholders and industry.
In its interim report (PDF), the committee calls for the creation of a "new independent regulator for content and communications". The committee said this should operate "at arm's length" from government and industry.
The new regulator would be required to have "broad powers" to make rules, apply regulation, oversee content standards and encourage media diversity.
"The regulator will need a range of effective powers to deal with changes in industry structure, market participants, consumer expectations and new technologies. These should include rule-making as well as enforcement powers, with the discretion to exercise 'regulatory forbearance' — the decision not to apply regulation in specific cases," the committee said in the report.
Boreham told Communications Day that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would no longer exist in its current form if the new regulator is brought in. According to Boreham, the ACMA would form a foundation part of the new regulator.
Currently, to deliver content on television or radio, an organisation requires a licence from the government. The committee called for the removal of content licences. Instead, regulatory policy framework would be built around the idea of a "Content Service Enterprise", where regulation of content is applied equally regardless of the platform it is delivered on, be that TV, radio or online.
The convergence review also said that the allocation and management of spectrum should be the same regardless of whether that spectrum is used for broadcasting or other purposes such as for telecommunications networks.
This would mean that each organisation seeking spectrum would be treated equally regardless of how they wish to use that spectrum; however, the minister of the day would have powers to reserve spectrum for policy objectives such as community and public broadcasting.
The committee has suggested that the new spectrum management and allocation system be brought in through a managed transition to provide free-to-air broadcasters with some certainty over the use of spectrum in the future.
In handing down the interim report, Boreham noted that there were a number of concurrent media reviews that would impact on the outcome of the Convergence Review, including the classification review and the media inquiry that will both hand down their reports in February 2012.
"We ... recognise there are a number of concurrent government reviews, such as the Independent Media Inquiry and the Australian Law Reform Commission's Review of the National Classification Scheme, that will influence our final report," Boreham said.
The committee is accepting comments on the interim report until 10 February 2012, and Boreham said that the final report will be delivered to the government in March 2012.