The Federal Government has allocated $375.4 million over the next 12 years in tonight's budget to building its new satellite platform for providing digital free-to-air television services across the nation.
The platform — dubbed VAST for Viewer Access Satellite Television service — will aid television broadcasters around Australia in bringing digital television to their local areas.
"Under an agreement reached with all television broadcasters across Australia, broadcasters will upgrade a substantial number of existing regional and metropolitan analog 'self-help' transmission facilities to operate in digital, while the government will fund the VAST service," said a statement issued by the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy tonight.
The service will provide the main standard-definition channels — Seven, Nine and Ten — as well as high-definition channels and new digital channels like Go, 7Two and OneHD. The national broadcaster channels — ABC1, ABC2 and ABC, as well as the forthcoming ABC news channel and SBS One and SBS Two — will also be transmitted through the satellite.
"The VAST service will also provide a dedicated news channel containing the local news content of the regional commercial television broadcasters from all regions of eastern Australia," Conroy said in the statement.
"As a result, all Australians watching the satellite service will be able to see locally relevant news. The Western Australian broadcasters will deliver their regional news services as they do at present."
Conroy said in general the service was aimed at fixing the "poor television reception", which he said for some years had troubled a number of residents in regional remote areas of Australia.
"It will ensure that viewers who are unable to receive terrestrial television services are not left behind in the coming switchover to digital," the minister said. That switchover kicks off in the Sunraysia area in late June this year and will finish nationally at the end of 2013.
A further $99.1 million in funding running through the end of 2013 will aid about 130,000 viewers in about 600 communities that currently use community-run self-help towers to view television. Under the new scheme those towers will be shut down.
"The satellite subsidy will be a minimum of $400 per household, with higher amounts of $550 for defined 'very remote area' households and $700 for defined 'far north tropical' households," said Conroy. "In addition to these subsidy amounts, households in identified remote indigenous communities may be eligible for an additional $280 worth of assistance."