Australia's vice-chancellors want the government to expand the digital spectrum to allow universities to broadcast programmes. The Broadcasting Act does not permit universities to be broadcasters.
In a letter to communications minister Richard Alston, the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee says the introduction of digital television in 2001 is an excellent opportunity to overcome restrictions on growth of the internet because of a lack of bandwidth.
Many distance-education students already use the internet. But the AVCC says that transmitting readings, lectures and videos in digital form uses a considerable amount of internet bandwidth.
The cabinet is discussing the parameters for digital broadcasting. The agenda includes decisions on whether to adopt a high-definition television format and the extent of datacasting and broadcasting services.
Vice-chancellors argue that digital broadcasting could allow unlimited numbers of students in an area to receive courses online and free internet bandwidth.
"It could reduce the need for universities to install extra landline cables to improve their internet connectivity, leading to a considerable cost-saving," the letter says.
The introduction of digital television, however, "should have room for universities, which will play an essential role in preparing Australians for the information economy of the next century".
Of the alternative forms of digital television broadcasting, Australia's free-to-air stations want to use HDTV to offer cinema-quality pictures. Vice-chancellors argue that standard-definition television allows more channels in the same amount of spectrum and this would maximise the potential for universities.