Plans for a fourth commercial television network in Australia have been given a cool reception by the industry.

The Australian government is examining the possibility as it prepares for the introduction of digital television.

The industry's existing commercial networks, Seven, Ten and Nine oppose any move to introduce a new licence when their franchises expire in 2006.

They argue with a population of 20 million the market can only support the present system which comprises the three commercial networks plus state broadcasters ABC and SBS.

They point to the United States which has six free-to-air networks serving a population of 280 million and the UK's five free-to-air channels for its 60 million people.

"A sixth television network would significantly impact on the quality of Australian television and we already have the best (and probably most competitive) free-to-air sector in the world," said Seven spokesman Simon Francis.

The suggestions have emerged as the Senate prepares to debate the government's controversial media ownership rules for the second time.

Last November it rejected plans to ease limits on foreign ownership which would allow media owners to expand their assets.

Data sourced from: Sydney Morning Herald; additional content by WARC staff