Open Access Cable Pty Ltd
Open Access Cable was a communications company that between 1991 and 1996 provided project management skills, strategic advice and consultancy to a range of nonprofit and for-profit organisations. OAC also acted as an advocate in regards of access to and appropriate use of communications technologies to promote a more equitable, connected, creative and informed society. Jeffrey Cook and Wendy Spencer were its founding directors when it was incorporated in 1993.
OAC was consolidated into a new media venture, Merlin Integrated Media, in 1996, finally becoming part of the 3V Group in 1998.
OAC was involved in setting up and operating alternative marketing and distribution channels for information, education and entertainment programs, with particular emphasis on the social and cultural implications of the use of new technologies. OAC specialised in packaging, scheduling and presenting program and other televisual material.
OAC contributed in an independent manner, and in some cases as an advocate for independent and community-based organisations, to over 15 federal government inquiries into media arts, innovation, media, broadcasting, economics and Australia's future and place in the world. 3V and Merlin carried on this tradition with submissions to the 1999 Bandwidth and Broadcasting Inquiries that detail issues for smaller, independent media players and the Tier Zero concept.
OAC created a demonstration cable television channel as a consultant to Telstra on the Centennial Park Residential Video (Cable TV) Trial which ran from 1993 to 1996. Over 40 hours of original programming and thousands of hours of independently produced programs were cablecast in the three years of operation of the channel. Part of the model developed during this time was used in the start up of the now defunct Optus LocalVision service which briefly operated in Sydney and in Melbourne. The Telstra cable system was sold to Foxtel in 1996 and, after a failed attempt by Metro TV in 1999 to set up a national community cable channel, became a solely paid service.
OAC's main aim was to promote the efficient and equitable implementation and operation of a public communications "backbone" or lifeline data dialtone in all domains of communications: through open access on free-to-air, cable TV and an open access regime on all telecommunications systems, called Tier Zero.
Tier Zero: The Lifeline Data Dialtone
Tier Zero is a lifeline data dialtone that would be accessible by all citizens at an affordable price, cross-subsidised by funding from government broadcasting and bandwidth revenues. It would ensure every citizen's basic low-cost connection to the internet and provide training and other resources.
Access would be provided and managed by an elected ISP as part of their new Community Service Obligations (CSOs) and available from local nodes or connection points, managed by non-government, community-based organisations at a local level. Anyone could connect to Tier Zero via the internet at any point and any time through broadband ADSL, wireless, satellite or other system and be guaranteed a good connection. Tier Zero would carry email and web services with free content provided by community, cultural, education and non-profit (CCEN) organisations.
A key tenet of Tier Zero is that access to a minimum level of media, internet delivered services and bandwidth would be underpinned by federal and state legislation and dollar-for-dollar funding, with regulation shared between appropriate federal and state bodies.
The support of such a public data telecommunications tier would assist in building an equitable, diverse and creative media and communications system, and a society that mirrors this diversity with many points of view and different voices. Because of its relevance, immediacy and connections to its many audiences it would increase community awareness of and familiarity with new media and communications services.
More people would likely use these new systems more often and in many different ways, generating increased uptake of commercial services (Tier 1 to Tier n), by sampling of commercial entertainment, educational and cultural services within Tier Zero. All stratas of society would benefit; as would commercial for-profit interests.
Tier Zero would also ameliorate the negative effects of corporatisation or privatisation of previously public owned assets such as transport and communications infrastructure. This is particularly the case in Australia, where Telstra, the government owned telco, has been 49% privatised.
These negative effects primarily concern the removal of the cross-subsidisation of "low profit" goods and services (services to the country, pensioners, lower socioeconomic groups, public access to telephones, etc.) by "high profit" goods and services (long distance telephony, Pay TV, e-commerce, business, etc.). The removal or dilution of these Community or Universal Service Obligations (CSOs or USOs) of carriers and telcos is a major concern as it leaves sensitive economic infrastructure support in the hands of profit-making concerns where short-term aims and market failure may more likely drive prices up and decrease access and usage. Tier Zero requires the institution of new CSOs for large ISP's and Telcos to supply a basic service tier at no or low cost.
In an odd twist, the recent rural and regional voter disaffection with policies that favour the "big end" of town - huge inner-urban projects and diminishing services in the country - have forced the Australian government to allocate significant rural telecommunications and cultural grants to partially replace the services (and value) lost through the corporatisation or sale of public assets. Sadly the bulk of these grants go to inefficient and inappropriate projects based on political expediency. The Liberal National Party has not been successful in convincing rural voters to support the sale of Telstra because voters believe that they will lose services in "poorer" rural areas because these services are never likely to return a profit. However, Tier Zero may be a way to enable both the sale of Telstra AND the maintenance of service levels.
It is likely that until the government and industry recognise the need and value of supporting a lifetime data dialtone - as a basic public service - uptake of new services will follow the same trends as are seen overseas in countries with similar conditions (i.e. not the US): with no government intervention uptake of expensive services plateaus at around 20% of the potential market, as it has for cable, and now broadband. The outcome could then be two internets, two markets and two cultures: one for only higher socio-economic groups (hi speed, rich content); and one for the lower (lo speed, "less-rich" content).
OAC was involved in community based activism over media access with organisations such as Metro TV in Sydney and the peak national body the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA). OAC founded the Sydney Public Television Group (SPTVG) in 1991 which later became the ill-fated Community Television Sydney (CTS), the successful trial applicant for the Sixth Channel UHF 31 broadcast license in Sydney. CTS was subsequently taken over by an unrepresentative group which operated the trial license for several years. This trial was not a success for many reasons. An alternative and more independent group was awarded the license in 2004.
The Community Channel