As Hong Kong continues to debate the use of high-definition digital terrestrial TV, Australia has given the go-ahead for the technology to be introduced in 2001. The introduction of high-definition digital terrestrial was among the laws passed by the federal parliament in Canberra last month. Broadcasters will be obliged to start using the technology in January 2001. An 18-month industry review to establish standards, operating procedures, content and allied services has been started and is due to report to parliament in 2000. Rural and regional broadcasters have been given until January 2004 to start broadcasts because of the higher impact the extra investment will have on their operations. The tight timetable for digital terrestrial, which promises dramatically better picture and sound quality and new channels, was a pay-off from Australia's public and private-sector channel providers in exchange for free use of seven megahertz of digital spectrum. Canberra also has imposed stringent operating conditions on the five broadcasters to oblige them to carry set minimums of digital TV. Their monopoly on the use of the technology will run out in 2006, instead of the original 2008. The condition largely is accepted as a concession to independent operators who have been kept out of the market until now. Australia's TV policies in the 1990s have tried to offer concessions to all players from the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp, to the commercial networks - Nine, Seven and Ten - and newer pay-TV operators such as News Corp-owned Foxtel. Concessions include ensuring popular genres such as sport cannot be bought up exclusively. The policy has been accused of featherbedding poorly performing companies. Lachlan Murdoch, chairman of News Corp subsidiary News Ltd, questioned the broadcasters' commitment to developing programming for digital because they argued the environment had been made less favourable by the two-year reduction in their monopoly. News Ltd is prevented from owning a commercial broadcaster under Australia's cross-media ownership restrictions. 'If they feel they cannot honour their licence obligations, maybe they should make way for competitors who can,' Mr Murdoch said. The new laws will allow companies with digital broadcast rights to use a portion of it for data transmission. Unused spectrum eventually will be auctioned to newcomers since existing players will be barred from buying rivals' capacity. Criticism of the legislation has been muted among broadcasters because while they concede the timetable for implementation allows little leeway, they feel their investments are going to be safeguarded.