Accessing buildings to install telecomms facilities | ACMA

Accessing buildings to install telecomms facilities

On this page you’ll find information for building owners, tenants and carriers about their rights and obligations under the Telecommunications Act 1997 in accessing buildings and land to install telecommunications facilities.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (the ACMA) brochure - Accessing buildings to install telecommunications facilities - is also available for download.

Why access is needed

Carriers seek access to buildings with multiple tenants for the following reasons:

  • to provide telecommunications services, including broadband, to tenants
  • to install radiocommunications facilities to serve customers outside the building
  • to inspect the site to determine whether it is suitable for its purposes
  • to maintain a facility located in or on the building.

Legislation, codes and guidelines

The Telecommunications Act provides the overarching legislative framework governing carriers’ and building owners’ rights and responsibilities when rolling out cable and radiocommunications infrastructure in and on buildings. There are also associated legislative instruments including the Telecommunications (Low-Impact Facilities) Determination 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997.

The industry code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment requires, among other things, that carriers adopt a precautionary approach in the planning, installation and operation of radiocommunications infrastructure and applies consultation requirements to the installation of these. Compliance with the industry code is enforceable by the ACMA.

Communications Alliance has also developed an industry guideline, ACIF G571:2002 Building Access Operations and Installation, which building owners and carriers can agree to use in conjunction with some of the statutory requirements set out in the Telecommunications Act.

Planning permissions and exemptions

For carriers seeking to install infrastructure, the general rule is that they need to obtain local government planning permission and comply with state and territory planning laws. However, carriers may install a limited range of facilities without seeking planning approval. The most common of these are ‘low-impact’ facilities.

The Low-impact Facilities Determination lists types of low-impact facilities, for example:

  • small radiocommunications dishes and antennae
  • underground cabling and cable pits
  • in-building subscriber connection equipment
  • public payphones.

The determination defines where these facilities can be installed, based on location and zoning considerations. For example, a facility that may be otherwise deemed low-impact in a rural or industrial zone may not be low-impact if it is installed in a residential area. Examples of designated low-impact facilities are set out in an ACMA fact sheet, Installation of telecommunications facilities – a guide for local government.

Exemption from state and territory planning laws

A carrier authorised to install a low-impact facility is immune from some state and territory laws, including planning and environmental laws.

This immunity applies during the inspection of land, the installation of certain types of telecommunications facilities, including low-impact facilities, and the maintenance of facilities. However, while engaged in these activities, the carrier must comply with the requirements in the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice.

The immunity only applies to carriers, not to carriage service or other service providers. For practical and commercial reasons, carriage service and other service providers may need to enter into agreements for building or land access.

Carrier rights

Under the Telecommunications Act, carriers have the following rights:

  • Right to inspect land - carriers may enter onto and inspect land, and do anything on that land that is necessary or desirable to determine whether the land is suitable for their purposes.
  • Right to install low-impact facilities - carriers have the right to install a low-impact facility.
  • Right to maintain telecommunications facilities - carriers have the right to maintain a telecommunications facility and may do anything necessary to maintain a facility, including altering, removing or repairing it.

Carrier responsibilities

Carriers seeking to inspect land, install a low-impact facility or maintain a facility must comply with Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act and with the Telecommunications Code of Practice. Schedule 3 specifies carrier responsibilities, including requirements to:

  • give written notice to landowners and occupiers, before the activity starts
  • do as little damage as practicable and act according to good engineering practice
  • take all reasonable steps to ensure the land is restored to a condition similar to its condition before the activity began
  • take all reasonable steps to ensure the activity interferes as little as practicable with the operations of a public utility
  • maintain records about the type and location of certain facilities.

The Telecommunications Code of Practice imposes additional requirements on carriers, including requirements to:

  • comply with any standard or code registered with the ACMA
  • ensure the design, planning and installation of the facility follow best practice and comply with ACMA or industry codes or standards
  • give written notice to landowners and occupiers, specifying the purpose for which the carrier intends to engage in the activity and outlining the objection process, at least ten business days before starting the activity (including installation) or at least two business days before beginning an activity associated with inspection of land if no part of the land affected by the land entry activity is, or is included in, a sensitive area and engaging in the activity does not involve any material disturbance to the land
  • when installing a low-impact facility between 10:00 pm and 7:00 am, make no more noise than allowed under the relevant state or territory law applying to similar activities
  • take all reasonable steps to make use of existing facilities for the activity and
  • make reasonable efforts to cooperate with other carriers and public utilities undertaking similar activities on the same land to minimise inconvenience and damage.

Objections by land owners or occupiers

Where a carrier serves a notice under the Telecommunications Code of Practice to inspect land, install a low-impact facility or maintain a facility, an owner or occupier may object to the installation of a low-impact facility on their land only on the following grounds:

  • the use of the land for the installation
  • the location of a facility on the land
  • the date the carrier proposes to start the installation, engage in it or stop it
  • the likely effect of the installation on the land
  • the carrier’s proposals to minimise detriment and inconvenience, and to do as little damage as practicable to the land.

Strict timeframes apply to the objection process. An objection under the Telecommunications Code of Practice must be made in writing to the carrier within nine business days after the notice is received.

When an objection is made, the carrier must:

  • attempt to resolve objections from landowners and or occupiers and, where an objection cannot be resolved, refer the objection to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) when requested to do so by the landowner or occupier
  • make reasonable efforts to consult with an owner or occupier who makes a written objection (within five working days after receiving the objection) to resolve it
  • respond to the objector in writing.

If the objection is not resolved, the objector can require the carrier to refer the matter to the TIO. Once the objector has received a response from a carrier, the objector must request the carrier, in writing, to refer the objection to the TIO within nine business days of receipt of the carriers response. The carrier must comply with such a request.

The TIO may investigate the proposal and decide whether to issue a direction to the carrier about the installation. Where the TIO decides to issue a direction and that direction relates to the way in which the carrier should engage in land entry activity, the carrier must comply with that direction.

The TIO can also investigate complaints that a carrier has failed to give the notice required by the Telecommunications Code of Practice or about the way the carrier has entered the land. In such cases, the complaint can be made directly to the TIO.

Compensation

An owner of a property, or a person with an interest in it, may be entitled to compensation for any financial loss or damage caused by a carrier entering and inspecting land, or installing or maintaining a low-impact facility. A claim for compensation is not a ground for objection under the Telecommunications Code of Practice. If the amount of compensation cannot be agreed between the parties, a court may decide on what is a reasonable amount. Any party considering legal action should obtain their own independent legal advice.

In some circumstances the TIO may be able to examine complaints about damage or financial loss.

Installing in-building subscriber connection equipment

In-building subscriber connection equipment is generally unobtrusive infrastructure that includes facilities needed to connect customers within a building to an existing telecommunications network. For example, such a connection may be a line from the boundary of an existing network connected to a main distribution frame (MDF) and a second line connecting the subscriber to that MDF. Network boundaries are defined under section 22 of the Telecommunications Act.

An in-building subscriber connection must be housed in an appropriate locality negotiated with the building owner, and be installed according to provisions under Chapter 4 of the Telecommunications Code of Practice.

Consequently, carriers needing access to a building to connect a customer to their network must negotiate fairly the terms of that access with the building owner. Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act includes, if required, arrangements for compensation for activities carried out under Schedule 3.

Industry guideline for in-building subscriber connections

When installing in-building subscriber connection equipment, those involved may decide to follow the processes set out in the ACIF Building Access Operations and Installation Guideline in conjunction with the statutory requirements set out in the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice. The guideline is a voluntary arrangement and carriers can choose whether or not to follow it, and whether to follow it in whole or in part. Where a carrier chooses not to follow it, the carrier must still comply with the requirements of the Telecommunications Act and Telecommunications Code of Practice.

In summary, the processes under the ACIF guideline are:

Pre installation

  • Carrier notifies owner’s representative of intent to inspect site for survey.
  • Owner confirms contact details and waives notification rights—within two business days.
  • Carrier contacts owner’s representative for simple inspection.
  • Carrier meets owner’s representative on site and inspection is held—within two business days.
  • Owner’s representative supplies questionnaire, copies of drawings and site plan, and building rules (any rules and procedures applying to that particular building), highlighting any special building issues.
  • Carrier prepares a ‘site visit outcomes pack’, including a completed questionnaire.

Installation

  • Carrier issues proposal to owner’s representative (including site visit outcomes pack and completed questionnaire).
  • Owner’s representative accepts or rejects proposal within three but no more than five business days. If proposal is rejected, owner’s representative supplies amendments and a further proposal is issued. Owner’s representative must reply within two business days.
  • If the proposal is accepted, installation may proceed. The carrier’s representative provides two business days notification of intention to commence installation and supplies a program of works and access requirements to owner’s representative.
  • Owner’s representative arranges security and building access.
  • Consent is required to access areas other than those agreed to in the program of works.
  • Carrier’s telecommunication facilities must comply with the ACMA’s electromagnetic energy (EME) regulatory arrangements. Carriers should ensure all necessary permits and trade licences are in place. Carriers are required to comply with building occupational health and safety guidelines set out in the ACIF Building Access Operations and Installation Guideline.

Post installation

  • Carrier is to ensure all required certifications are provided to the owner’s representative—within five business days of completion.
  • Carrier completes clean up and reinstatement, tags the facility as its own and exits the site—within 10 business days of completion.

Maintenance

  • Carrier’s representative gives the owner’s representative two business days’ notice of a scheduled maintenance activity on site except where:
    • the carrier and owner have other arrangements or

    • no notice is required when maintenance is needed without delay to maintain service or to protect the integrity of a telecommunications network or facility, people's health or safety, or that of the environment or property. 

Other matters

The Building Access Operations and Installation guideline also sets out practical activities aimed at improvements in circumstances where there are significant riser, equipment and related space/management constraints.

Digital building telecommunications access guideline

In 2006, the Australian Building Codes Board published the Guideline on Digital Buildings Telecommunications Access Guideline (Digital Building Guideline) as a best practice guide to help facilitate and manage arrangements for access to buildings when providing telecommunications services to tenants.

The Digital Building Guideline aims to support more competitive broadband services and focuses on increasing awareness and education about carrier telecommunications infrastructure in CBD multi-tenant buildings. It includes guidelines to manage the various expectations and outcomes for tenants, building owners and managers and telecommunication carriers and services providers. There are guiding principles for building spaces and services and telecommunications access, along with suggestions for communication network architecture within buildings, and checklists. Where appropriate, the guide refers to standards applying to size and spacing of the communication network architecture.

The Digital Building Guideline can be purchased through the Australian Building Codes Board website.

Installing mobile phone base stations

When a carrier seeks access to a building to install a mobile phone base station for public mobile telecommunications services, they need to comply with the Industry code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment.

The code provisions apply to carriers’ fixed radiocommunications infrastructure used to supply public mobile telecommunications services such that the base station is capable of inter-cell handover. Exempt radiocommunications infrastructure is listed in the code.

The code requires carriers to apply a precautionary approach to the design, operation and selection of sites for proposed mobile phone base stations. There are many obligations on carriers in relation to their base stations, including:

  • designing and operating radiocommunications infrastructure to minimise EME exposure
  • providing information to the public on request about EME for specific sites
  • developing written procedures for site selection, including taking account of the reasonable service objectives of the carrier, the objective of avoiding community sensitive locations, the availability of land and public utilities
  • providing information to local government authorities on network forward planning for the region if requested
  • turning off transmitters that are out of service.

The code’s consultation requirements do not apply to infrastructure that falls within state and territory planning laws and requires local development approval. In that case, it is expected tthere will be public consultation through the development approval process. For carriers installing mobile phone base stations at new sites that do not require development approval, obligations may include:

  • developing a plan for local community consultation, with timeframes and signage
  • complying with the consultation plan
  • identifying community-sensitive locations
  • identifying relevant community stakeholders
  • consulting with the owner, occupiers, immediate residential neighbours, interested and affected parties, occupiers of community-sensitive locations and relevant community stakeholders
  • providing the local government authority with a report about the responses from those notified, the results of any other consultation and the carrier’s intended actions regarding the proposed work; with the report to be available to the public on request.

Where a carrier intends to co-locate with an existing facility, they must publish a notice of the proposed work in a newspaper circulating in the area surrounding the location. The notice must include the location and details of the proposed work and invite submissions. The submission closing date must be at least 10 days after the date the notice is published. Before starting the work, the carrier must take account of any submissions received from the public and local government authority.

Under the industry code, when deciding on placement for a site, carriers are required to consider community-sensitive locations such as schools and hospitals, and balance this with factors such as coverage objectives and engineering requirements. Further information on carriers’ obligations can be found in the following resources:

Where to complain

Objections under the Telecommunications Code of Practice should be directed initially to the carrier, within the time limits described earlier. Once a carrier has considered an objection and responded in writing, the objector may make a written request to the carrier to refer the objection to the TIO.

Objections may be made directly to the TIO when:

  • a carrier has failed to give notice in accordance with the Telecommunications Code of Practice or
  • a carrier has refused to refer an objection to the TIO despite a request from the owner/occupier or
  • the objector is not satisfied with the carrier’s response to the objection.

The TIO is unable to investigate objections to land access activities where the complainant has not followed the correct objection procedure, unless both parties have agreed to refer the matter to the TIO.

The TIO has jurisdiction over complaints about failure by a carrier to take all reasonable steps to cause as little detriment, inconvenience and damage as reasonably practicable. The TIO can investigate a complaint where a carrier fails to restore the property to a condition similar to its condition before the activity began.

The TIO may also be able to examine some types of complaints about financial loss or damage as a result of carrier activities.

After completion of an investigation, the TIO may direct that the carrier restore the land to a reasonable standard or reimburse the complainant for remediation work required to be carried out.

In the absence of a conciliated settlement, the TIO has the power to make a binding decision against a member carrier up to a value of $30,000, or a recommendation up to $85,000.

More information about this and the right of consumers to claim compensation in certain circumstances is on the TIO website. If the claim is over $85,000 and is well substantiated, other forms of dispute resolution may be considered or actioned under clause 42 of Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act.

Most overhead cabling is not a low-impact facility. The Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997 defines those facilities which are low impact.

Subject to the rights to complain to the TIO, complaints regarding alleged (or potential) breaches of Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act may be directed to the ACMA.

Complaints about an alleged breach of the industry code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment should be directed initially to the relevant carrier. Should the matter fail to resolve, the complaint may be directed to the ACMA, with a copy of the written complaint to the carrier and the carrier’s response.


Last updated: 31 July 2017