The ACMA Annual report 2010-11, tabled in federal parliament on 12 October, highlights the agency's recent focus on issues facing telecommunications consumers.
The ACMA's Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry, launched in early 2010, reached an important milestone during the year with the release of the draft inquiry report in June.
'This kind of inquiry was a first for the ACMA-a major and important activity in its own right-which explored telecommunications customer service and complaints-handling,' said ACMA Deputy Chair, Richard Bean.
'By financial year's end, our draft inquiry report, supported by extensive research and public submissions, had been released, confirming that there was a range of problems for consumers, and identifying the key causes of these problems,' he said.
'The report delivered a multi-layered plan to improve customer service for Australia's long-suffering telecommunications consumers-a plan to put customers first and, in no uncertain terms, the telecommunications industry on notice to lift its game.'
Under the RTC proposals, more than a thousand Australian telecommunications providers and ISPs will need to deliver on five major consumer protection measures, while coming under greater regulatory scrutiny by the ACMA.
The ACMA also participated in the review of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) Code, being undertaken by Communications Alliance. Consultation drafts of the revised code should be released to the public and provided to the ACMA for registration by the end of the year.
'More generally, the ACMA is taking a more active approach to addressing consumer issues and complaints,' said Richard Bean. 'This is evident from our new quarterly consumer bulletin, which reports on a range of initiatives, including audits and compliance education.'
Two new service provider determinations that came into force early in the year, giving industry incentives to comply with the Mobile Premium Services (MPS) Code, have created further protections for telecommunications consumers. Both were made following consultation with consumer representatives, industry and other regulators.
'We have closely monitored compliance with this code and it was very pleasing to see that the figure for the June quarter of 2011 was the lowest quarterly figure for mobile premium services complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman since the TIO began collecting specific complaint data on these services almost five years ago,' he said.
A review of the MPS Code also began during the year and a revised draft code is due to be released for public and industry comment before the end of the year.
The 2010-11 year was equally challenging and full of progress for the ACMA in other areas, including much activity in two other consumer-related spheres- anti-spam and the Do Not Call Register.
Federal Court decisions during the year kept the pressure on industry, with a penalty of $2 million imposed on the last respondent in the ACMA's first Federal Court action involving SMS spam. Total penalties in the case were $24.25 million.
'This year saw the ACMA experience its highest number of contacts from the public about spam since the commencement of the Spam Act 2003. A number of things contributed to this including our ability to generate greater awareness of the ACMA's role in spam regulation, the success of our Spam SMS service and the streamlining of methods for reporting spam to the ACMA,' Richard Bean said.
Enforcement under the Do Not Call Register Act also achieved a milestone, with the first-ever register-related Federal Court ruling. A penalty of $120,000 was imposed against a Queensland travel agent, along with injunctions against it and its sole director.
Listings on the register topped six million while, at the same time, the total number of complaints about telemarketing calls and marketing faxes rose significantly compared with the 2009-10 year. This can be attributed in large part to the ACMA's success in increasing awareness among consumers about how to register their numbers, complain and report telemarketing scams.
Over the last year, convergence has become part of the ACMA's core business, influencing many major projects, including spectrum management and technical regulation, the numbering project, premium SMS, electronic wallet and mobile applications, the RTC strategy and digital media literacy programs.
'Our experience, and our broad program of research, is informing our thinking about the policy objectives for regulation in the future and whether new or different forms of intervention are needed to help Australian citizens in a converged content environment,' Richard Bean said.
The ACMA has been contributing to the government's Convergence Review directly and indirectly, and this will continue to be an important focus during 2011-12.
Another major area of work during the year was telecommunications numbering, with the release of four separate consultation papers. The papers examined the underlying structure of the Numbering Plan and several areas-including VoIP and other broadband-enabled services-where service evolution is already putting pressure on traditional numbering-based approaches.
The next step is to issue a directions paper later in 2011 summarising the feedback received and identifying possible changes to improve the effectiveness of the Numbering Plan and related numbering arrangements.
For the digital switchover, the ACMA continued to provide technical and regulatory advice and information on television coverage. One critical decision reached during the year was to implement the efficient 'block' planning approach to the replanning (or 'restack') of the digital dividend spectrum.
Throughout 2010-11, the ACMA also continued its multifaceted television coverage evaluation program, which identifies transmission infrastructure issues that would otherwise prevent the transmission of digital television broadcasting.
In spectrum management, the ACMA finished its review of the 400 MHz band, releasing implementation plans and time frames for new arrangements in the band that, among other things, will reduce congestion, harmonise government spectrum, and facilitate interoperability between state and federal government agencies in essential and emergency services. A paper, The 900 MHz band-Exploring new opportunities, examining new options for replanning the 900 MHz band was also released.
The ACMA's work on the digital dividend 700 MHz spectrum and the review of the 2.5 GHz band also came together in late 2010-11 with the announcement of the first formal steps towards a joint auction of new spectrum licences in both bands.
'This decision reflects the strong complementary nature of the two bands for advanced mobile telecommunications. At the same time, we released two draft recommendations on reallocations in these bands-a process that is important in meeting the community's increasing demand for mobile broadband and opening the door to new services to be delivered to the public,' Richard Bean said
The ACMA is particularly proud of its important and world-leading work in cybersafety awareness, which consolidated and grew during 2010-11. The agency extended the leverage of its now well-recognised Cybersmart brand and continued to roll out its program training teachers, parents and young people directly.