A spectrum licence authorises the licensee, or a person authorised by the licensee, to operate radiocommunications devices in accordance with the conditions contained in the licence. Details of current licences in each of the spectrum licensed bands are available from the spectrum licence search page.
Each spectrum licence includes core conditions and other statutory conditions. The core conditions are set out in section 66 of the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and specify:
- the part or parts of the spectrum in which the operation of radiocommunications devices is authorised under the licence
- the area of Australia within which the operation of radiocommunications devices is authorised
- the maximum permitted level of radio emissions outside these spectrum and area boundaries.
The core conditions define the spectrum space within which the licensee is authorised to operate radiocommunications devices under the licence.
Other statutory licence conditions under the Act include:
- payment of charges
- use of licensed spectrum by third parties, especially in relation to handsets
- registration of transmitters for the purpose of interference management
- any other matters that the ACMA may need to include in the licence to provide for efficient coordination with other devices or to manage devices in a way that does not compromise Australia’s international treaty obligations.
Spectrum licences are offered for terms of up to 15 years, and are issued with no automatic right of renewal. At the end of the licence period, replacement licences will generally be reallocated following a price-based procedure. This provision does not prevent a spectrum licence being reissued to a person to whom it was previously issued.
The ACMA periodically publishes notices in the Commonwealth Gazette stating where information can be obtained about spectrum licences that are due to expire within the next two years. Expressions of interest are invited from members of the public who would like a spectrum licence to be issued to them. This information can also be obtained from the ACMA website or by contacting one of the ACMA's offices.
The ACMA sends expiry reminders to licensees during the last two years of their licence. For example, notices arising from allocations made in 2000 will be issued in 2013.
A spectrum licence may be reissued to the same licensee without participating in a price based allocation process where this is in accord with a determination by the Minister, or where the ACMA is satisfied that special circumstances exist as a result of which it is in the public interest for that person to continue to hold the licence.
Suspending and cancelling spectrum licences
Under the Radiocommunications Act, if a licensee or an authorised third party has:
- breached a licence condition or the Act, or
- has operated a device in breach of any other Commonwealth, state or territory law whether statutory or unwritten, such as the common law, or
- operated the device in the course of contravening such a law
the ACMA may, by written notice giving reasons, suspend a spectrum licence. The suspension will cease within 28 days unless proceedings for an offence against the Act are instituted. The ACMA may revoke the suspension at any time. The ACMA may also take action to cancel a spectrum licence.
Application may be made to the ACMA for reconsideration of a decision to suspend or cancel a spectrum licence. It should also be noted that in the event that licence conditions are breached by a licensee or an authorised third party, other licensees may also be able to pursue a remedy through the courts by undertaking civil proceedings.
The ACMA is empowered to resume spectrum licences by agreement, or by compulsory process subject to payment of just compensation. The ACMA may only exercise its powers to compulsorily resume spectrum licences where the Minister has given written approval.
Spectrum licence tax and charges
The ACMA recovers a share of the overhead costs of maintaining the spectrum through an annual spectrum licence tax. The taxation arrangements and the method for calculating each licensee’s contribution to the base amount are contained in the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Act 1997 and the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Determination 2000.
Under its enabling legislation, the ACMA may recover its costs. Any services provided by ACMA to spectrum licensees will be charged at the ACMA’s normal charging schedule, which includes GST if applicable. In many instances, the ACMA has set a standard charge for services offered, including registration of devices and registration of trading of spectrum space. Each spectrum licence will include a condition that the licensee meets its obligations to pay any cost recovery charges levied by the ACMA.