According to the Radio Communications Act, the first and overarching imperative of regulating access to this resource is to “maximise … the overall public benefit derived from using the radiofrequency spectrum”.
Furthermore, it provides for an “efficient, equitable and transparent system of charging for the use of spectrum, taking account of the value of both commercial and non-commercial use of spectrum”.
In recognising the non-commercial nature of community radio stations – established as not-for-profit, mainly volunteer staffed entities – the government waives spectrum access fees (taxes).
CR stations do, however, pay fees (taxes) to license their radio frequency transmitters. These fees (taxes) are as low as $ AUS 30 per year.
However, CR stations are not without responsibility. In return for free access to the airwaves, they are required to adhere to the principles of community broadcasting as laid out in the Broadcast Services Act 1992.
These principles establish the not-for-profit, volunteer, open, participatory, audience service based model that community radio stations around the world adhere to.
Under the model of license fees (taxes) adopted in the Australian context, the “overall public benefit” outweighs the economic considerations of managing the radio frequency spectrum.
This is not say this situation will not change in the future but at present, community radio stations are valued not for their economic efficiencies or practices but for the contribution they make in the social development, cultural preservation, artistic expression and civic solidarity of the communities they operate within.
A government policy which follows the model outlined above can only be positive in its outcome.
That is, if governments wish to support the social and civic development of their societies, then providing free or highly subsidised access to the radio frequency spectrum is, perhaps, the most effective way of promoting development goals at the local, regional and national levels.
Shane Elson, Alternative Radio (Australia) & AMARC Asia Pacific-Treasurer