On 1 July 1997, the Australian telecommunications industry became subject to a regulatory framework. This document explains the rationale behind the new framework and the roles of the various industry and regulatory bodies operating within it.
- Objectives of the new Regulatory Framework
- What is being regulated?
- How does the Regulatory Framework operate?
- Industry Codes, Industry Standards and Technical Standards
- Who's who in the new environment
- Industry bodies
- Interest groups
The new regulatory framework is designed to promote:
- the long-term interests of 'end-users of telecommunications services and
- the efficiency and international competitiveness of the Australian telecommunications industry.
Under this framework, industry self-regulation is encouraged in all areas, including access, technical standards, interconnection standards, and consumer and customer service standards. Government regulators have powers to intervene if industry self-regulation is not working effectively in specific instances.
Three main types of industry operators are subject to regulation under the new framework:
- carriage service providers and
- content service providers
A carrier is a holder of a carrier licence granted by the ACMA under the Telecommunications Act 1997. The owner of a network unit used to supply carriage services to the public must hold a carrier licence. The only exception to this is if responsibility for the unit is transferred from the owner to the carrier. Since 1 July 1997, there has been no limit on the number of carriers that can be licensed to operate in the Australian telecommunications industry.
A carriage service provider is a person who supplies, or proposes to supply, certain carriage services using network units. Internet service providers may be classed as carriage service providers. Carriers may also be carriage service providers.
A content service provider is a person who supplies broadcasting and on-line services. These providers have access rights under the Trade Practices Act 1974. Access rules under this legislation provide a framework for determining the services to which service providers have a right to access for the purpose of providing their own competing services, and the cost at which such services will be provided to them. Content service providers are subject to content regulation by the ACMA.
Industry Codes are rules or guidelines governing particular aspects of telecommunications, developed by industry. Industry Standards are rules or guidelines similar to industry codes, but determined by the ACMA. Technical Standards cover the technical parameters of customer equipment, such as cables and networks.
The ACMA's role is to:
- Register Industry Codes when they are developed by bodies such as Communications Alliance Ltd (formerly ACIF/SPAN)
- Call for the creation of codes on important matters if representative industry groups do not do it voluntarily and
- make standards where codes are not forthcoming or codes on important matters fail.
Priority is given to industry voluntarily developing and enforcing codes. Thus, until 1 January 1998, the ACMA could not make a standard. This restriction is intended to allow industry associations, such as the Communications Alliance Ltd, time to develop codes regulating their practices.
Communications Alliance Ltd formed Reference Panels and Working Committees (including the ACMA, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) representatives) to develop standards and codes needed by the industry and community, including:
- Consumer Codes - codes regulating the relationship between service providers and consumers
- Operations Codes - codes regulating relationships between service providers
- Network Codes - codes regulating technical operations of networks to ensure end to end connectivity
- Customer equipment Standards
- Cable Standards
- Network Standards and
- Radio Standards
Standards and codes are developed in line with public interest criteria, the representatives of Working Committees, the openness and transparency of processes, and the extent of public consultation. As described in Communications Alliance Ltd's operating manual and guideline documents on Code Development, the majority of Codes will be submitted to the ACMA for registration. These will then be enforced by industry Code Administrations and Compliance Schemes. Only if self-enforcement mechanisms fail, can the ACMA resort to steps 2 and 3 (above).
Although industry codes are voluntary, the ACMA can direct a member or section of the industry to comply with a registered code.
The ACMA is a regulator of the Australian communications industry. It was formed on 1 July 2005 as a result of the merging of the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). The ACMA is responsible for the regulation of broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications consumer and technical matters.
Specifically, the ACMA is responsible for the following telecommunications issues:
- issuing of carrier licenses
- regulation of service providers
- annual and quarterly reporting of the performance of carriage service providers with reference to consumer satisfaction, consumer benefits and quality of service
- registration, with safety-net style enforcement powers, of industry (including consumer, operations and technical) codes of practice
- setting of industry standards where codes fail or fail to be created
- monitoring of delivery of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) (currently involving the supply of standard telephone and pay-phone services)
- costing delivery of the USO
- the continued availability of an untimed local call charge option
- setting and implementation of Customer Service Guarantees
- ensuring appropriate membership or exemption from the Telecommunications Ombudsman Scheme by all carriage service providers
- protection of residential customers against carriage service provider failures to supply service upon payment
- ensuring access to emergency call services
- ensuring the protection of confidential information of telecommunications customers by carriage service providers
- ensuring that carriers and carriage service providers avoid the use of their networks for illegal activities, and that carriers and carriage service providers offer appropriate assistance to the authorities in relation to enforcing criminal law, protecting public revenue and safeguarding national security
- ensuring carriers and carriage service providers co-operate with law enforcement agencies in relation to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 and consult with law enforcement agencies about the possible impact of new technology on the operation of those agencies
- ensuring that carriers and carriage service providers are prepared to provide services for defence purposes
- ensuring that carriage service providers make plans to manage natural disasters
- ensuring that customers can pre-select a long distance call supplier other than their access provider along with a dial code over-ride option
- regulating the inter-carrier use of calling line identification (CLI)
- the phasing out of the Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) along with a review of those areas to be exempted
- Public education campaigns regarding numbering and AMPS phase out
- establishment of technical standards and the issuing of permits for equipment and cabling, which will progressively be handled by industry
- the establishments of standards for standard telephone handsets that prescribe facilities to be made available for people with disabilities
- establishing and maintaining a numbering plan to ensure that unique numbers are available for carriage service providers to provide to their customers
- regulating electronic addressing
- ensuring that where carriage service providers offer services according to standard prices, terms and conditions (rather than an individual contract or agreement), the standard form of agreement is lodged with the ACMA and amendments are publicised in an appropriate way
- regulating and enforcing carriers powers and immunities
- handling of public enquiries about certain matters related to telecommunications and
- handling investigations of certain matters related to telecommunications, in particular those related to breaches of the Act.
The ACMA regulates customer equipment and cabling connected to networks and facilities. However, the ACMA may delegate much of the responsibility for standards-setting, compliance testing, labelling and the issuing of cabling licences to Communications Alliance Ltd.
The ACCC regulates competition in the telecommunications industry. It took over these responsibilities from AUSTEL on 1 July 1997. Its major functions in relation to the telecommunications industry are:
- administration of the new telecommunications access regime and
- regulation of anti-competitive conduct.
The ACCC is also responsible for general consumer protection and competition regulation across all industries. For example, it approves access codes developed by the industry and undertakes arbitration where industry is unable to agree.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy provides advice on all regulatory policy aspects of the telecommunications, radiocommunications and postal sectors. The Telecommunications Industry Division also provides advice on legislative and administrative arrangements for Telstra and Australia Post.
Policy advice is provided in relation to the Telecommunications Act 1991 and associated legislation including price regulation, universal service, role and functions of the Australian Communications Authority, consumer safeguards, carrier powers and immunities, the postal industry, the Radiocommunications Act 1992, electromagnetic energy and public health issues, telecommunications industry and matters relating to the carriers network rollout, managing Australia's interest in international and regional telecommunications agencies and organisations such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, INTELSAT, Inmarsat, the International Telecommunications Union and the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity.
The following industry bodies are central to the new telecommunications regulatory framework.
Communications Alliance Ltd resulted from the merger of the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) and the Service Providers Association Inc. It is the peak communications industry body. It has primary responsibility for developing technical, operational and consumer industry codes and standards. Any organisation or individual can become a member of Communications Alliance Ltd, including carriers, service providers, equipment vendors, industry associations and user/consumer groups.
The Australian Communications Access Forum (ACAF) is an industry self-regulatory body, approved by the ACCC. ACAF's role includes recommending which services should be subject to the telecommunications access regime, and generating and updating an access code. Carriers and carriage service providers can join ACAF. ACAF has no webpage but can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is an independent dispute resolution forum for complaints made by residential and small business consumers of telecommunications services. The TIO is funded through charges levied on carriers and service providers on the basis of complaints received against them.
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is the peak body that represents all consumers on communications issues including telecommunications, broadband and emerging new services. The former Consumers' Telecommunications Network (CTN) is replaced and extended by ACCAN.
The Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG) is a national non-profit organisation that represents the interests of telecommunications users. ATUG aims to ensure that Australian telecommunications users have access to a wide range of high quality, low price communications services. ATUG is represented on the ACIF Board, Reference Panels and Working Groups.
The Communications Law Centre (CLC) is a research, teaching and public education centre specialising in media and communications law and policy. It was established in 1988 and now has offices in Sydney and Melbourne. CLC is a key source of research and policy development on media and communication law and policy and has an established reputation as a major contributor to public debate on these issues. CLC attends ACIF meetings as a consumer representative body.
SPAN merged with ACIF to become Communications Alliance Ltd - see above for details.