Thursday, November 22, 2012

Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation: Position Paper

Position Paper
 Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation (ACDF)
National Questions of Culture-Commerce-Convergence

The Australian Federal Government’s Convergence Review together with the National Cultural Policy Review have provoked questions about funding and continued public support for the cultural sector. Australian national interest is reflected in cross-party funding over many years for cultural institutions – Australian Film and Television / Screen Australia, Triple J, Australian Broadcasting Corporation and more recently support for new media and creative industries. (See for example It is a growing and complex set of demands that combines culture with commerce and convergence.
Traditional support for national cultural institutions is coming under pressure and must change in the electronic (that is Internet / digital) environment. Increasing numbers of Australians receive their cultural artefacts – cinema, music, television programming (sport and entertainment) and information services through the Internet.
The digital sector, or Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is the growth sector of the economy, and severely at risk from foreign content (note especially the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement). Australian cultural producers are disadvantaged. Most content now moves through the ICT network direct to consumers.
Telecommunication firms manage the network, with Telstra as the “incumbent” infrastructure owner dominating and given special treatment by the Federal Government to the tune of $11 bn to support its business.  Telstra is the digital gatekeeper and does not operate in a genuine marketplace, but as a protected (subsidised) provider.
The emergence of the National Broadband Network (NBN), to which Telstra connects along with all telecommunication companies (Optus, Vodaphone and others) will generate massive turnover. (Over and above the estimated current annual $40 bn turnover of the telecom companies).
The NBN growth projections suggest increased costs for consumers as Telstra and the NBN maximise profits. Most of the pressure for content will be from global, read US sources. This will ultimately challenge then undermine local content and creative industry producers.
The question is how to maximise support for Australian culture in this new context. Old and established approaches to funding support are unlikely to be effective as they will be costly, while freighted with traditional appeals from powerful interests.
Australian Cultural Digital Facilitation (ACDF) is the answer –a levy on all telecommunications (arts and culture) content transactions over the network. Just as the telecommunications firms charge consumers for downloads over the Internet, so the Australian Government charge the profit making firms for facilitating the flow of culture over the network.
It is a matter of justice.
The ACDF would levy a 2-5% fee on all telecom providers (not Internet Service Providers). This would include all cultural content transported by all operators using the Australian national telecommunications infrastructure / NBN: rate of levy is equal to 2-5% of gross revenues for wholesale and retail business. The levy would operate on all network traffic – terrestrial, fibre or cloud based digital transport (no exceptions) flowing through the national network. The fee would be only levied once per algorhythmic datum. For example, if a film was stored on a Hollywood server, transported to Australia, moved to a server in Melbourne to be downloaded on to a mobile phone in Broken Hill, the cost of that transaction would be levied one time – at the point it was downloaded by the user. The subscriber’s telecommunication provider would calculate the value of the transaction and pay that fee into an account, to be distributed quarterly to the collection agency.  
 The ACDF will produce the following results:
·      progressively engage the marketplace with culture in Australia;

  • guarantee financial support for cultural industries;
  • reduce and possibly remove cultural funding demands from Federal and State budgets;
  • engage telecoms and ICTs with nation building, but not on their self-interested terms;
  • offer an innovative approach to social provisioning;
  • connect the telecommunication companies with the Australian public.   
The telecos would pay the fee to an ACDF Authority / Australia Council. Mandated distribution to all sectors of the creative community would be managed by this independent institution.

Marcus Breen