As the election has rolled on, very few people have noticed a major development involving the ABC that has slipped under the radar.
BAI Communications (a company formerly known as Broadcasting Australia) has put the country’s transmission towers up for auction.
BAI was handed monopoly ownership of the transmission system that carries ABC and SBS signals by the John Howard government, after Howard decided to sell-off the then National Transmissions Authority.
Now BAI intends to cash-in, by selling our national broadcast infrastructure for what will no doubt be a tidy profit.
Where it leaves the ABC, which has no option but to pay about a fifth of its budget for transmission costs, is uncertain.
Will a new, probably international, operator charge more for transmission services?
Transmission costs are often left out of the debate over ABC funding.
The fees go toward maintaining the vast web of radio and television transmission sites across the country.
Of course, when the government cuts ABC funding, transmission costs must stay the same, making the relative cuts greater for programme makers.
According to the ABC, inflation adjusted transmission costs average $185 million a year to allow 48 non-metropolitan stations to be accessed across the continent.
That amounts to 21% of total ABC expenditure.
Content production accounts for about $546 million or 62% of total expenditure, with a further $79 million or 9% spent on supporting production makers.
About $70 million or 8% of expenditure goes to financial, human resource and other non-content administration.
In 2020, additional transmission costs were imposed on the ABC after two transmission towers (from a separate network for aggregated television services) in regional NSW stopped working, denying about 1,000 homes access to the ABC and commercial television.
The towers’ operators, RBA Holdings, said it that, after funding losses caused by the wide demise of regional commercial media, it could no longer afford to maintain the towers.
At the time, the ABC said that to maintain the towers would cost the public broadcasters an initial (and not previously budgeted) $1.2m per year.
Until and unless the transmission network is re-nationalised, the ABC will remain in the hands of profit-making (probably international) players who can charge what may be above-market rates for transmission services the public broadcaster has no choice but to prop-up.