Holders of low power open narrowcasting (LPON) services have been told by the ACMA to ‘Use it or lose it.’
The new direction comes in response to recent decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with a new set of guidelines now available from the ACMA website.
Under the Use it or lose it (UIOLI) guidelines operators of a LPON licence must comply to the following conditions.
- Start broadcasting within six months of obtaining the licence
- Use it regularly
- Keep records
The ACMA says that unless there is a reasonable excuse for not doing so, the licensee must commence the service within six months from the day the licence was issued. This is intended to allow enough time to set-up infrastructure for broadcasting.
A licensee must provide the service with reasonable regularity for the duration of the licence and to meet the ‘reasonable regularity’ requirement, there are couple of key factors to consider:
In the decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), Futrends Pty Ltd and Australian Communications and Media Authority in April 2020 the ACMA’s application of ‘with reasonable regularity for the duration of the licence’ in cancelling LPON licences was considered and upheld. The decision noted the ordinary meanings of the word regular but concluded that the context in which regularity is used in subsection paragraph 4.11(1)(b) of the Direction. Used, done, or happening on a frequent or habitual basis.
This reflects the purpose of the UIOLI conditions in ensuring LPON services are not hoarded or unused.
This meaning of reasonable regularity was further supported by the AAT’s decision in July 2020 of this year in the case of W&A Willmington and Australian Communications and Media Authority, which again agreed with the ACMA’s cancellation of LPON licences as they were not being used with reasonable regularity and defined reasonable regularity as “a frequent or habitual service”.
The ACMA note that there is no fixed minimum number of hours as to what makes up ‘reasonable regularity’. Rather, what is ‘reasonable’ will be informed by all the circumstances of the licence. However, the ‘reasonable’ requirement should be informed by the purpose of the condition, which is to ensure that people are making meaningful use of the licence.
The recent decisions by the AAT also demonstrate that transmissions for short periods may not satisfy the requirement of ‘reasonable regularity’, as transmitting for short periods or making test transmissions to meet licence conditions is not a provision of a service to listeners.
The requirement is for the licensee to provide the service to which the licence relates.
The licensee must maintain records of the commencement, hours of operation and provision of the service.
This means that they must:
- keep a logbook of the hours/events of operation
- keep visual and audio broadcast recordings
- document the nature of the service being provided, whether daily or for special events.