Telecommunications Fact Sheet - updated May 2010
The ‘communications power’ of the Australian Constitution (s. 51(v)) gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to regulate telecommunications in Australia. In 2005 Parliament created the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) was created to regulate broadcasting, the Internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications.
As the primary regulator of telecommunications in Australia, the ACMA exercises powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and various codes and standards of practice. Together, these regulations give the ACMA the ability to regulate service providers, infrastructure and spectrum.
There are two types of service providers: (i) carriage service providers and (ii) a content service providers. A carriage service provider provides a “service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy,” namely wireless or wireline communications, such as landline or mobile telephone service. A content service provider, on the other hand, provides to the public a content service, such as broadcast television or an online service. When a carriage service engages in content service, it becomes a content service provider as well.
All service providers must:
“1. comply with the Telecommunications Act 1997. This includes an obligation on carriage service providers supplying the standard telephone service, mobile services or Internet access services to join the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme;
2. provide directory assistance, operator services and itemised billing to customers using the standard telephone service; and
3. in the case of carriage service providers, comply with access obligations imposed by the telecommunications access regime.”
The telecommunications infrastructure can be regulated on the local, state or Commonwealth level depending upon the type of facility and the zoning of the site.
Access to existing carrier facilities is governed jointly by the ACMA and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACMA primarily deals with “with access to telecommunications towers and underground facilities” whereas the ACCC primarily deals with “supplementary telecommunications facilities.”
“Schedule 1 Part 5 of the [Telecommunications Act 1997] provides that a carrier (the first carrier), on the request of another carrier (the second carrier), must provide access to telecommunications towers, tower sites and eligible underground facilities. The first carrier is not required to comply with such a request if there is in force a written certificate issued by the ACMA stating that, in its opinion, the requested access is not technically feasible in relation to the subject site or facility.
In determining whether compliance with a request for access is technically feasible, the ACMA is to have regard to the matters set down in Schedule 1 Part 5 sub clauses 33(4), 34(4) and 35(4). These are summarised as:
- significant difficulties of a technical or engineering nature
- significant threat to the health or safety of persons who operate or work on the facility or at the site
- whether there are practicable means of avoiding the above difficulties, including changing the configuration or operating parameters of the facility
- other matters (if any) the ACMA considers relevant.”
Universal Service Obligation & Digital Data Service Obligation
The universal service obligation (USO) is an obligation placed on universal service providers (currently only Telstra) to provide all Australians with access to standard telephone and payphone services on an equitable basis regardless of where one resides or does business.”
The Digital Data Service Obligation (DDSO) placed on a digital data service provider (currently Telstra) “to ensure that digital data services are accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business. The DDSO consists of two obligations - the general DDSO for people in general digital data service areas (approximately 96 per cent of the population) and the special DDSO for people in special digital data service areas (approximately 4 per cent of the population, usually living or working at a distance of more than 4.5 kilometres from their local telephone exchange).”
Under the provisions of the Radiocommunications Act (1992), the ACMA is responsible for governing spectrum usage in Australia. The Radiocommunications Act gives the ACMA power to create both a Spectrum Plan and frequency bands. The Spectrum Plan divides up the radiofrequency “spectrum into a number of frequency bands and specifies the general purpose for which the bands may be used. This process is referred to as the allocation of frequency bands to radiocommunication services.” The Plan is “reviewed on a regular basis and updated in response to the Final Acts of [International Telecommunications Union] World Radiocommunication Conferences” in order to reflect Australia’s obligations as a member of the ITU.
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
Created by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1993, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) “is a free and independent alternative dispute resolution scheme for small business and residential consumers in Australia who have a complaint about their telephone or Internet service.”
If a consumer cannot settle a complaint with a service provider, the consumer can raise an issue with TIO which then “investigates complaints by considering the facts provided by both parties in a dispute.”
The TIO can then make “Binding Decisions (up to the value of $10,000) that are legally binding upon the telecommunications company, and Recommendations (up to the value of $50,000).”