Keynote speech to CommsDay Summit 2014 | ACMA

Keynote speech to CommsDay Summit 2014

Speech by Chris Chapman, ACMA Chair
CommsDay Summit
Sydney, 8 April 2014

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I was pleased to be offered this Keynote opportunity this morning. As Grahame Lynch knows, I have approached this opportunity each year as a ‘headland’ one and today will be no exception. Grahame recently reminded me that this is the 20th anniversary of the CommsDay summit (hot on the heels of the really excellent one-day forum that Simon Cohen, our TIO, put together last Thursday to celebrate its 20th anniversary). So there was last week, and there will be today, some retrospectives—but the pace of change, industry dynamism and necessity of policy consideration is so great as to quickly compel us forward again. So I’ll concentrate on a little history, a little of the now and a little over-the-horizons stuff. 

Firstly, the retrospective—I’m going to comment on the achievement of a major outcome achieved collectively by all stakeholders in the communications industry—the transition to digital terrestrial television and realisation of the digital dividend.  

I will then refer to the outcomes from two recent ambitious and innovative ACMA spectrum research projects—research into the economics of and demand for mobile broadband. 

I will update you on our current read on an enduring ACMA public interest outcome, being the protection and promotion of consumer interests when purchasing and using telecommunications services.   

I will then turn to talk about our engagement with the government’s deregulation agenda and ACMA red tape reduction activities, both of which sit very happily with the Outcomes focus of our Corporate Plan, in which this calendar year, as I will explain, the ACMA has set its sights firmly and specifically on achieving outcomes.

I will then conclude with some observations from an ACMA perspective on the several inflexion points that each of the four sectors of media and communications (that the ACMA regulates) has reached in the context of the longer term reform agenda for media and communications.

The transition to digital terrestrial television and the realisation of the digital dividend 

It would be remiss of me not to pause to reflect upon a major collective outcome achieved by all stakeholders in the communications industry—the transition to digital terrestrial television and realisation of the digital dividend. The transition is actually celebrating its 20th (or so) anniversary, having actually begun, if you think about it, with the digitisation of the analog television service starting in 1993 (just at the time I took on the role of the Seven Network’s inaugural COO). 

I want to publicly congratulate the media and communications industries and our colleagues in the Department of Communications in completing the digital switchover and spectrum reallocation processes so professionally and, in all of Australia’s unique circumstances, so expeditiously. This achievement sits in the domain of the ACMA’s Key Results Area (KRA) of Public resource management and relates specifically to our Outcome 2.1: Allocation and use of spectrum, which requires that the public benefit from the allocation and use of the radiofrequency spectrum be maximised. It is also a very good illustration of the interdependence between industry and the ACMA in achieving public interest outcomes.

Through the Outcomes lens now being manifest in our Corporate Plan, the aim of which is ‘That the public benefit from the allocation and use of the radiofrequency spectrum is maximised’, we have a comprehensive and ongoing work program to manage and dimension spectrum. Given the complexity of the radiocommunications world, such an outcome is difficult to encapsulate with a single measure; so KPIs or measures of success for this outcome looks at a number of dimensions such as: 

  • internationally harmonised mobile broadband spectrum is allocated so that it that keeps pace with growth in mobile data traffic
  • a high proportion of available spectrum is allocated to meet demand so the productive potential of the economy is enhanced and a spectrum ‘crunch’ is avoided
  • that spectrum congestion levels reduce over time
  • adequate spectrum is allocated to organisations providing public or community services, while minimising any adverse economic impacts.

Specifically, with respect to the digital dividend spectrum, the ACMA has listened to a number of industry sectors. The spectrum freed up by broadcasting’s digital switchover has been optimised for the purposes of mobile broadband services, while in planning the restack of digital TV services, the ACMA has adopted the approach argued by the television broadcasters as optimising the relevant spectrum for digital TV, a ‘block’ planning approach for digital TV channels. The benefits of this ‘block’ planning (or ‘Cheddar cheese’) approach over the alternative, minimum moves, or ‘Swiss cheese’ approach, include the most equitable arrangement possible in terms of service coverage—benefiting the viewer, since if they receive one service they almost certainly will receive them all. In addition, viewer antenna arrangements will be simplified—in the future no-one will need both a VHF and UHF antenna—one or the other will suffice.

From the ACMA’s visibility to the project, the implementation of restack—now well underway—is on track towards clearing the digital dividend by the end of this year. The digital dividend was, as you will recall, auctioned last May with licences due to commence in 2015. These arrangements were put in place through the implementation of the APT 700 MHz plan. I have spoken before about Australia’s involvement in the development of the plan, which is being widely adopted throughout the world. Collectively, the APT plan is now being adopted or seriously considered in markets with a combined population of well over two billion people and growing. The potential and, increasingly, the reality, is that the APT plan will become the foundation of a device ecosystem characterised by large-scale standardisation and harmonisation, which will deliver substantial economic benefits for all Australians—from faster download speeds, to cheaper handsets, to the productivity benefits flowing from the take-up of mobile technology by Australian industry.

On a technical level, the use of the digital dividend will result in an improvement on the sound download speeds which are already enjoyed by many Australians—Australia is currently leading the world in average LTE download speeds, and we are almost four times faster than the US. (1)

Australians who wish to use their mobile phones when travelling overseas will also benefit from the greater network interoperability that comes from the harmonisation, which is also expected to reduce network deployment costs with the increased standardisation of infrastructure equipment.

Australian consumers could also stand to benefit in terms of greater handset choice and lower handset costs. If, for example, handset prices are on average reduced by $10 per handset due to economies of scale from the APT 700 plan, we estimated last year that economic benefits to Australia of $207 million dollars per annum would result. Even greater benefits would be achieved if a ‘$US30 smartphone’ became available due to economies of scale in handset manufacturing—such a development is perhaps most directly beneficial in developing countries. However, if five to 10 per cent of new phone purchasers in Australia took up this $US30 smartphone option, economic benefits would increase to be between $269 and $351 million per annum.  

The economic benefit of sound ACMA spectrum management

This previous analysis is testament to the reality that we are, and remain, intensely interested in understanding the economics of sound planning and management of the spectrum which the ACMA delivers. 

Minister Turnbull gave a speech in November last year to the Business Influential Series seminar with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen (who coined the phrase ‘disruptive innovation’). I was struck by the alignment of the ACMA’s longstanding approach to spectrum allocation and management with the minister’s innovation address when he noted in his introduction to Professor Christensen: '… the key feature of the times in which we live is volatility. Unpredictable change. And the answer to that is that you have to be … in my judgement, at all times nimble.'

This theme of nimble adjustment to change characterises the necessary contemporary approach to spectrum, which as I have noted is a core ACMA responsibility and Outcome focus; spectrum does not just facilitate communication; with digitalisation, it has changed the very concept of communication and how we interact with the world around us. While being one of the great enablers of the 21st century, to use Christensen’s phrase, it is also a source of ‘disruptive innovation’ and thereby demands nimble responses from all players. 

One of the tools we consistently use at the ACMA to help us stay agile has been our first principles-based focus on being evidence-informed in our activities, and this is as true in the case of spectrum as in many other areas of our remit. To make informed decisions about how to best manage Australia’s spectrum resources, the ACMA needs to understand how spectrum is currently used, how it could be used in the future and how we as the regulator can facilitate a future communications environment that works in Australia’s best interest. 

For this, we need to access and utilise cutting-edge research and information from a range of sources (both internal and external). To put it another way, world’s best regulation requires world’s best information and research, and we are currently delivering on this with two ambitious and innovative spectrum research projects.

The Economic impacts of mobile broadband on the Australian economy, from 2006 to 2013 was released by the ACMA only last week, and articulated the various ways in which mobile broadband take-up and usage has changed Australia for the better.

The research, combining the latest data on mobile broadband usage, surveyed results from over 1,000 Australian businesses and economic modelling to deliver Australia’s most comprehensive view of this revolutionary enabler.

While we expected some of the figures, such as the substantial growth in the number of 4G-enabled smartphones, or the increase in average mobile data traffic, the estimated economic benefits of this trend were truly sobering—in a most positive way.

For example, the continued growth of the sector and mobile broadband increased Australia’s economic activity (its GDP) by $33.8 billion in 2013.

The mobile communications sector has achieved a substantial productivity growth of 11.3 per cent every year from 2006 to 2013. In addition, it has generated productivity growth in other industries. Seventy-five per cent of businesses surveyed said that mobile broadband saved time for their employees, by on average 2.3 per cent. Taking these two effects together (that is, the direct increase in productivity in the mobile broadband industry and the increase in productivity in other industries as a result of mobile broadband) led to the Centre of International Economics’ findings that mobile broadband has increased Australia’s GDP growth from 2.6 per cent per annum to 2.9 per annum between 2006 and 2013.    

As the result of a bigger economy, enlarged by productivity in the mobile broadband sector, and the increase in productivity in other sectors as a result of resultant time savings from using mobile broadband in 2013, every Australian now effectively has, on average each year, $652 more cash in their pocket—additional to what they would have been able to had we not had mobile broadband. 

Maybe it’s time to stop suggesting that the ‘digital economy’ is on the way to becoming the economy because, like the related phenomena of convergence, where I think we’re already into post convergence, digital (and the applications, pathways and challenges it is throwing up) is profoundly embedded in the economy. And this research illustrates how the ACMA—through its spectrum management responsibilities—can facilitate sustained economic growth.

Our other project, working with Analysys Mason, has been the development of a mobile network capacity forecasting model that looks at likely traffic scenarios and what this might mean for additional spectrum or infrastructure needs. 

Using a range of growth and usage assumptions, the model is a powerful tool in the ACMA’s policy arsenal for anticipating and responding to environmental factors. Over the coming several months, we intend to conduct targeted industry consultation on the model and supporting documentation to refine and improve this forecasting tool—which we intend publicly releasing mid-year. Finally, in the lead up to our annual RadComms conference on 10 and 11 September, we anticipate releasing an updated version of our May 2011 Towards 2020—Future spectrum requirements for mobile broadband. To avoid any hint of a future spectrum crunch, the ACMA will need to continue to take long-term planning horizons, given the long lead times associated with spectrum re-farming and various conceivable scenarios on future data growth.

So these research projects form vital inputs to our immediate planning; for example, in development of the ACMA’s future mobile broadband strategy, or our response to the Minister of Communications on the unsold lots in the 700 MHz band. On this latter topic, I remind everyone that the ACMA is required to report to the minister by 1 September 2014 on the appropriate procedures for allocating spectrum licences for the 30 MHz of unsold 700 MHz spectrum. Under the previous minister’s direction to the ACMA, it is to have regard to: 

  • the prices achieved for the spectrum licences allocated as a result of the digital dividend auction
  • prevailing market circumstances that may have an impact on the value of the spectrum.

We are currently undertaking this assessment so that in making our report to the minister we will make recommendations designed to maximise the public benefit derived from this valuable parcel of spectrum. 

The work in these two research report models also represents our commitment to developing flexible policy responses in an evidence-informed way. We acknowledge that future mobile broadband services are not the only ‘game in town’ and the clear need to take into account the needs of incumbent services (and their sunk capital), together with national safety and security obligations and those vital passive and sensing uses of spectrum. As the regulator, we can’t and don’t seek to avoid the fact that many of the issues we deal with are often contentious—indeed, it is a core part of the ACMA role to independently mediate these divergent interests and deliver outcomes that maximise the overall Australian public benefit—that remains our abiding focus.

Telecommunications consumer protections—sound progress

And while we’re touching on abiding matters, a paramount enduring ACMA public interest outcome, founded in the Telecommunications Acts, is defined in our Corporate Plan as Outcome 1.2: ‘That consumer interests are protected and promoted when telecommunications services are purchased and used’. We will measure performance on this outcome through a mix of key indicators such as consumer satisfaction, incidence of bill shock, and TIO complaints. The revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP Code) has been in operation for over 18 months now and during this time we have been monitoring the sector to make sure it lifted its game (which it certainly has)—and, having done so, maintains that behavioural change trendline—and therefore we are actively engaging with providers to educate and enforce code rules, where required, to achieve compliance.  

Specifically to provide the ACMA with baseline evidence to assess the outcomes from the ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer (RTC) inquiry and the impact on consumer satisfaction of changes to the TCP Code, the ACMA commissioned Newspoll last year to undertake a national survey to assist the ACMA to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes to the TCP Code and other outcomes flowing from the RTC. 

This RTC-specific research involved a quantitative survey of almost 1,900 telecommunications bill-payers and focused on consumer perceptions of: 

  • customer service
  • complaint-handling processes
  • unexpectedly high bills
  • spend management tools and historical usage data
  • the ease of understanding telco offers and the level of ease in comparing offers (this perception, in particular, being a useful insight into the success or otherwise of behavioural economics theory that considerably informed much of the RTC’s final recommendations).

The ACMA will be releasing the full results of this research within a fortnight or so but let me just tease you with some preliminary results.   

In terms of comparing offers, the research shows that consumers consider that it is easier to compare offers than it was 12 months earlier.

One-third of customers who purchased a new service or changed their provider or actively considered doing so had seen or received a Critical Information Summary in the 12 months prior to the survey. (Bear in mind that when the survey was taken, the code obligation to have Critical Information Summaries had only been in place for two months).

A massive 82 per cent of them found Critical information Summaries useful. 

Seventy per cent of consumers active in the market in the 12 months prior to May 2013 said it was easy to compare offers, and 29 per cent said it was easier to compare offers than it was 12 months earlier. 

Overall, those who reported having seen a Critical Information Summary were more likely to say that it was easy for them to compare offers (76 per cent of those who had seen a CIS said it was easy, compared to 67 per cent who had not).

On our current view, the TCP Code continues to deliver improved protections for consumers following our RTC public inquiry. I have been particularly pleased to see industry going beyond the code rules. We were very conscious during the RTC process and code development process not to be so prescriptive as to stymie innovation or set timelines that rode roughshod over smaller providers or didn’t synch with IT swap-out windows.  

Our pragmatism has been paying dividends—for example, major providers have introduced usage notifications ahead of the implementation deadline, while the introduction by Optus of stepped plans for mobile services potentially offers dramatic reductions in the adverse consequences of excess usage.

Currently, using the TIO complaints as one proxy to measure the effectiveness of the TCP Code, we are pleased to see that the overall complaints received by the TIO have decreased significantly by 11 per cent in 2013. Complaints for the December quarter 2013 are at a six-year low. This industry trendline of improvement is in my view a reassuring reminder that, and an example of, industry, the regulator and consumer advocacy bodies being able to work together to better optimise multiple outcomes.

Those of you who attended this event last year may recall that I announced the ACMA’s intention to investigate rising TIO complaints about mobile network performance issues. 

Complaints about this topic have also fallen in the December quarter—for example, complaints about coverage dropped more than 30 per cent. This is a very welcome development which I hope will continue. Nonetheless, I consider our release of a discussion paper, along with a subsequent forum held in Melbourne last November, was important in crystallising dimensions of performance and provoking discussion about how industry can improve information for consumers further. In this regard, and to consolidate progress, I’m heartened that Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association have worked together to develop a customer guide on mobile network performance. This guide will be made available on multiple websites and will be promoted extensively in a social media campaign and through our consumer advocacy network. The ACMA will also soon be engaging with other regulators and consumer bodies seeking to develop a common approach across them (cherry-picking the best information) to provide the consumer information on this subject matter. Together, these initiatives should provide a further valuable framework for consumers to understand what they must consider when choosing a mobile provider when it comes to functionality. So I commend CA and AMTA for their maturity in dealing with an emerging issue in a sensible and effective manner.

As for our view of compliance with the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, the news there is also very positive on a number of the component parts:

Critical Information Summaries

From 1 March 2013, suppliers have been required to provide consumers with a two-page document called the ‘Critical Information Summary’. In March 2013, the ACMA looked at 94 plans for initial compliance with this code rule. Only 34 were compliant. However, the majority of providers improved their CIS in response to our concerns. Those that did not received formal warnings or directions to comply.  

One year on, our audits of Critical Information Summaries found a vast improvement in compliance, with 83 of 92 documents checked last month assessed as compliant. We have made contact with providers about the other nine.

Usage alerts

From 1 September 2013, the TCP Code required suppliers to send usage notifications for data, voice calls and SMS usage. Smaller providers need to provide notifications for voice and SMS usage from 1 September this year.

In December, the ACMA commenced an audit of the usage notification implementation by the largest seven providers. We found that most providers had a small incidence of failure to send notifications, or failure to send the correct information at the 100 per cent notification level. However, each of these providers now appears compliant with the new code rules, having addressed systems issues. We continue to resolve ongoing issues with one provider.

Roaming

The ACMA has also currently reviewed the warning notifications sent by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone to comply with the International Mobile Roaming Standard that came into force in September last year and found all three providers compliant.

Complaint-handling

In the area of complaint-handling, the ACMA understand that most providers have each taken steps to strengthen their complaints-handling procedures since the new TCP Code was registered. However, the ACMA also noted TIO complaint issues in 2013 for complaint-handling have only reduced marginally by 0.5 per cent. 

We have reason to believe that some providers are not analysing complaint information to identify and prevent the recurrence of complaints arising from systemic issues, as required by the TCP Code. Accordingly, over the next few months we will focus on providers’ complaints analysis practices.  

We have gathered some evidence of providers focusing solely on resolving complaints at first point of contact—for example, by giving the consumer a credit rather than investigating and identifying any underlying causes.  

However, resolving a complaint at first point of contact does not exempt a provider from the code obligation to analyse its complaints at least every three months. This is to identify any systemic problems, irrespective of whether the individual complaints may have been resolved at first point of contact.

We have noted an increase in TIO complaints relating to contracts in 2013, despite the overall decrease in complaint issues relating to the TCP Code. We directed two telcos to comply with the TCP Code and formally warned a third. An audit into the transfer practices of other providers is underway and we will contact more audits and investigations as necessary. We are similarly conducting an audit of the direct debit practices of providers.

Privacy

Improved measures by telco providers to protect customers’ personal information is warranted. Telstra has experienced four privacy incidents since 2011, with the most recent breach found in 2014, for an incident from 2012–13. The ACMA acknowledges that Telstra undertook remediation steps as appropriate and contacted all affected customers once the incident was identified. However, as Telstra contravened the ACMA’s earlier direction to comply with the privacy provisions of the TCP Code, an infringement notice for $10,200 was issued.

Discussion on the various components of compliance aside, the take-out message is that the ACMA will not be pulling back any time soon from its strong compliance and audit program of the last 18 months.

Red tape reduction

In the Business Influential Series speech by the minister which I mentioned previously, he linked the red tape reduction program to the necessity of change and innovation, saying:

… the regulatory framework that underpins the communications sector, for example, was formed in another era when technologies and business models were relatively stable … that context has completely changed, and so we're taking a first principles look again at regulation in the communication sector to see if the policy objectives behind it are still valid and if it still serves a useful purpose, and if not, the regulation should go.

The ACMA unequivocally agrees with the minister and has consistently highlighted the inadequacies, the broken concepts, which underpin a number of key pieces of legislation.

It may be useful if I provide some of the broader context within which the ACMA is implementing the government’s deregulation agenda, before speaking a little more specifically about certain activities the ACMA is undertaking.

In July last year, the Coalition released a policy to ‘Boost Productivity and Reduce Regulation’, which included the commitment to ‘reduce the red and green tape cost burden imposed on the Australian economy by $1 billion per year’. The months since the election have seen both whole-of-government and portfolio-specific work to implement this policy.

Whole-of-government processes to support deregulatory activity include new requirements for agencies to quantify the cost of regulatory burden of new or amended regulations and identify reductions in regulatory burden to offset these costs. These whole-of-government measures apply to the ACMA, along with every other government agency.

The ACMA has welcomed the government’s initiative to deliver reform through better regulation and we think the reform agenda is particularly timely for the media and communications sector. The changes being driven by converging technologies have created a pressing need to assess the appropriateness of current regulations and we are embracing this as perhaps a unique opportunity to increase our focus on identifying and pursuing measures to reduce regulatory burden, and a further spur to our Outcomes-based corporate planning, about which I will speak more shortly.  

The minister’s recent de-regulatory framing paper to industry provided some useful guidance in thinking about what the government’s deregulation agenda might mean for the communications sector. It pointed to three high-level issues for us to consider:

  • How appropriate is the current communications regulatory framework for a converged communications environment?
  • What enduring principles and concepts might underpin communications policy and regulation into the future?
  • What regulatory tools are suitable for government to use in supporting enduring outcomes for the Australian community?

In that paper, and indeed on a number of occasions subsequently, the minister made clear his intention that reductions in costs and burdens on industry will be achieved in the context of maintaining necessary consumer protections and other safeguards. Consistent with this intent, where implementation of deregulatory measures involves the ACMA considering the removal, simplification or other changes to existing regulation, our decision-making process will continue to be undertaken in the context of our statutory obligations, and on the basis of a comprehensive risk assessment with careful examination of the impact of any proposed change. 

As you would all no doubt be well aware, a whole-of-government set of de-regulatory measures were included in the government’s first Repeal Day Bill last month. The ACMA materially contributed to the bill, and one change in particular sets what I view as a strong thematic direction. That is the amendment to remove the ACMA’s statutory duty to investigate broadcasting-related complaints that do not fall into the limited categories for exemption and instead to confer on the ACMA discretion to investigate complaints about broadcast content, interactive gambling and online content, if it is desirable for us to do so (a discretion that I should observe already exists for virtually all other ACMA investigatory work; for example, in telecommunications and the unsolicited communications space of the Do Not Call Register and spam). As the Explanatory Memorandum notes: ‘Given the number of services and amount of annual scheduled programming, the level of complaints received and investigations undertaken by the ACMA suggests that the broadcasting industry is generally compliant with its legal and code of practice obligations under the BSA.’ This amendment suggests a substantial confirmation of trust by the government in the capability and capacity of industry, the self-regulatory scheme and the ACMA as regulator. It is, in my opinion, perhaps fair to also suggest that this proposition holds in relation to many other communications-related, red tape reduction initiatives where, it is my impression, there is significantly growing maturity and preparedness in the marketplace to take on the responsibility that comes with progressive de-regulation.

So, the ACMA delivered a diverse package of changes as part of Repeal Day 1. Many of these initiatives reflect relatively ‘low-hanging fruit’ that eliminate redundant legislation and regulation.

The ACMA repealed 46 spent instruments as part of Repeal Day 1. Spent instruments are regulations that no longer have any effect. While not altering existing arrangements, the repeal of these instruments will make it simpler for business and individuals accessing the law. As a result, the ACMA has removed nearly 1,000 pages of redundant regulation in the media and communications sector. 

In October 2013, the ACMA revoked the regulation of premium telephone services offered on 190 numbers. Since the Determination was made in 2004, updated consumer protection tools have been introduced, such as the new TCP Code. The premium services market has also significantly changed since 2004, with much of the premium services content migrating to the internet, where safeguards for these services are provided under other legislative instruments. 

In October 2013, the ACMA introduced more flexible identity checking rules for prepaid mobiles. These rules allow a number of additional identity-checking methods for prepaid services and were developed by a joint industry and government working group that included representatives from the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association, mobile carriers, law enforcement agencies and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. The adoption and success of the new methods will be assessed in two years.

The ACMA has also been examining industry reporting requirements to assess the scope for reducing information provision by industry in light of changing market conditions, current industry compliance levels and the availability of alternative sources of information to identify consumer detriment and test compliance. 

The ACMA is also implementing changes to reduce the frequency of reporting under payphone and customer service guarantee record-keeping rules from six-monthly to annual requirements. This level of information will reduce industry compliance costs, but continues to provide the regulator with performance information and the ability to take action where there is a service performance decline. Reductions in reporting requirements that are contained in industry codes are another area of activity that the ACMA is progressing in relation to codes administered by Communications Alliance. 

Already, there are a range of other reporting requirements in the broadcasting sector and telecommunications that the ACMA is progressively reviewing in the lead-up to the next Repeal Day planned for later this year.

The ACMA is also taking action on a range of early reform priorities directed towards reducing industry costs. This includes measures such as:

  • ongoing business process improvements to reduce the costs to industry in dealing with the ACMA on licence and other resource allocation
  • working with Communications Alliance on a review to streamline telecommunications customer information provision requirements.

Some interesting ACMA internal ‘red tape’ initiatives

The ACMA has also been actively working over the last year or so to reduce the costs around its client and customer interactions through the introduction of its customer service centre. A month ago, the ACMA opened its new customer service centre. Its opening is the beginning of a transformation in the way the ACMA does business with its customers. The customer service centre, which is at its first stage, currently supports the business of the Communications Infrastructure Division of the ACMA, the division with the highest volume of public-facing activity.

Before the centre opened, customers wanting to do business with the ACMA had about 100 types and points of entry to choose from to attempt to find the right area of the ACMA. It was frustrating for someone external to the ACMA and, trust me, on occasions for someone within the ACMA! This first stage of transformation has already reduced those choices by about two-thirds. Customers wanting to apply for a licence, report interference to their television or radio, buy a smartnumber, ask about cabling or any of the other myriad of activities undertaken in the division now have a single point of contact.

The centre is staffed by people knowledgeable about the extraordinary breadth of the business of the ACMA (and much of the technical complexity behind it) and they are directly connected to other ‘subject matter’ experts. So now, a stakeholder, customer, client, citizen (Australians actually manifest in all four personas) can have their question answered in one place, with the backing of that subject matter expertise. 

The services provided by the centre will roll out across the entire agency over the next 12 months or so to achieve my goal of a ‘single point of contact’ for those wishing to transact with the ACMA, no matter the query or transaction. 

We are also working to update our ageing spectrum management toolsets. Project HELM has been a multi-year project to replace and improve the ACMA’s radiocommunications licensing and frequency assigning tools to give it much greater agility and resilience in our management of spectrum—it will provide substantial benefits to our stakeholders. These benefits will include greater efficiencies through reducing the processing times for issuing and managing licences, as well as providing the ACMA efficient, modern high-quality tools to greatly enhance our management of the spectrum.

Furthermore, we will be taking an open data approach to the information that we hold. We will be making our radiocommunications licensing data available for download free of charge from the ACMA website. We will also be providing online interfacing to allow for real time queries of our data. I expect these new arrangements to be in place before the end of this calendar year.

These changes will open up the ACMA’s radiocommunications licensing data to a vast number of additional uses. We see an open data future where app developers use our data to deliver the next generation of services to the Australian public.

Regulatory reform

The ACMA sees the deregulation agenda as a timely opportunity to pursue constructive regulatory reform in addition to the focus on reducing the costs of regulation for business and the community. It represents an opportunity to update the regulatory framework for communications and media by systematically and diligently removing outmoded and unnecessarily burdensome elements, as well as assessing the fit of regulatory tools to the contemporary environment. That is clearly an ongoing challenge—indeed, so far it could be said that we have been successfully traversing the ‘foothills’ of the de-regulatory task in media and communications—the mountain range of a deeper reform agenda remains before us. It is in this terrain that we discern the broadest opportunity to align our de-regulatory efforts with enduring media and communications outcomes for the Australian community.

This year, the ACMA has set its sights firmly on achieving outcomes, formally committing in the latest iteration of our Corporate Plan to an outcomes-based approach—in words and actions. Last year, our executive team took a fresh approach to the plan by casting our strategic goals for the next three years (2014–16) in terms of the public interest ‘outcomes’ we plan to achieve for industry and consumers, rather than as ‘outputs’, as we have done historically. 

Our goals in drafting this latest update of our plan were firstly, to adapt to diminishing resources by a heightened focus on activities that directly drive our outcomes; secondly, to allow industry to take ownership of outcomes as much as possible; and thirdly, to signal the ACMA’s commitment to delivering on public interest outcomes while reducing costs and burdens on industry. One of our key areas of focus is to complete an extensive review of regulation, reporting requirements and industry-based compliance strategies with the objective of removing unnecessary regulation, a focus which the outcomes basis and structure of this plan readily supports. I will return to this later in my remarks.

As a product of fundamental thinking about why we do what we do, the new approach is intended to further focus the ACMA by directing our energies and resources on outcomes that support our strategic intent, which is ‘to make media and communications work in Australia’s public interest’. Over the period of this plan, the broad remit of the ACMA will be delivered against the backdrop of a diverse range of challenges. My view is that the organisation has reached a sufficient level of maturity to adopt an outcomes-based approach to contributing to that public interest.

The ACMA shares with all industry players the need to work smarter and more collaboratively with our stakeholders. Just as the RTC inquiry raised expectations of the telecommunications industry, in many ways our new Corporate Plan signals that the ACMA is raising the expectations on itself. A new set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were designed to make us more accountable and also makes clear the interdependency between industry performance and ACMA success in delivering. Each of the ACMA’s five Key Result Areas have formally stated Outcomes and KPIs. 

I expect that many organisations represented here today will play a large part in helping us achieve the outcomes we have identified and deliver on the KPIs we have set ourselves. I also expect there will be further refinements of our three-year Corporate Plan as we ‘live it’—as we action our plans, identify how best to measure progress and hear back from industry. As ever, I invite you to examine and provide feedback on the plan (you can find it on our website) and our consequent activities.

Over the longer term, the ACMA will continue to contribute its evidence base and experience to assist in the development of reform proposals. We have consistently documented the need for regulatory reform arising from convergence pressures on the regulatory framework. Indeed, we see that the five key pressures manifesting in different ways across communications and media—extraordinary technology developments, market and industry structural change, heightened consumer and citizen engagement, the incessant globalisation of markets, and the need for regulation and national digital communications strategies. 

For example, in our Broken concepts paper, the ACMA provided a forensic analysis of how these convergence pressures affected the regulatory concepts that underpin current regulation, identifying where regulation was under strain or redundant. The minister’s call for industry submissions on deregulation used the ACMA’s analysis from the companion ACMA research paper, Enduring concepts—Communications and media in Australia, as a guide to thinking about what should be retained in regulation, even if it is delivered in a different, less costly and more efficient way.

The ACMA was created in 2005 to be a ‘converged’ regulator, bringing together the four media and communications ‘worlds’ of telecommunications, broadcasting, radiocommunications and the internet. In my view, each of these four ‘worlds’ is approaching its own tipping point with regard to a new and emerging balance of convergence pressures, further prospects for red tape reduction and opportunities for broader regulatory reform.

In telecommunications, the growing shift to mobile and data-driven communications, together with the changes in market structure that will flow from the NBN, has rendered aspects of fixed-voice regulation a legacy structure ripe for reform; certainly for reducing red tape.

The deeper reform opportunity arises in developing an effective transition path for important consumer and competitive safeguards into the fixed broadband environment.

In broadcasting, the completion of digital switchover in 2013 brings to a conclusion the era of analog television broadcasting. As a result, this creates an area where analog regulatory concepts can be removed or overhauled for the digital age.

At the same time, the digitalisation of content and shift to online content delivery models offers the likelihood of even greater substitution between print, broadcast and online content. There is a deeper reform challenge to identify the relevant and appropriate content safeguards and content production support models in a more contestable and interchangeable digital content environment. The ACMA will work closely with government to address these growing challenges.

In spectrum management, the red tape focus is on business process improvements that could realise cost savings to industry in the way spectrum is planned, allocated and licensed.

The longer term reform challenge, and the one likely to realise deeper productivity gains for the economy as a whole, lies in a more fundamental examination of spectrum management arrangements. These considerations are more likely to be driven by economic efficiency concerns than by red tape reduction per se. The ACMA will work closely with government on any consideration of these deeper spectrum reform opportunities.

Finally, the online environment also faces unique challenges arising from global information flows and business models, innovative service offers and rapidly changing online user behaviours. Educating and informing citizens and business about productive engagement in online communications is an important tenet of the ACMA’s cybersafety and e-security programs. Mitigating and managing risks of exposure to harmful, inappropriate or hurtful content is an ongoing concern and central to the implementation of the government’s policies for the E-safety Commissioner.  

So what’s all this mean for the ACMA? It will be working hard to cut red tape and reduce the regulatory burden on industry—but, as I mentioned earlier, within the parameters of protecting important community safeguards and other legislative requirements. Indeed I would venture that the ACMA’s approach to regulation has been increasingly light touch, evidence-informed and philosophically opposed to regulation for its own sake. As our now long-standing tagline suggests, we communicate, facilitate and then, if all else fails, regulate, to ensure outcomes are cost-effective and fit-for-purpose.

Future regulatory challenges

In thinking about the 20th anniversary of this CommsDay summit, Grahame suggested I might touch on regulatory challenges over the next 20 years. My view is that the future, 20 years out, especially in comms and media, is essentially unknowable. What we do know is that we are growing into an ever more complex networked world; one that is becoming deeper, more dense and more intense at an unprecedented rate, driven by ever more intricate and subtle interconnection between networks, devices, services and content, virtualisation, semantic richness, responsive adaptive ‘intelligence' with contextual situational awareness from sensor-laden devices from which is evolving the ‘Internet of Everything’. What we as regulators, consumers, citizens, industry and policy-makers can do is prepare for any number of challenging scenarios and build a flexible and agile set of capabilities with which to respond, but to the minimum extent necessary.

We sketched the future for a regulatory framework to support such an approach in our paper Connected citizens—A regulatory strategy for the networked society and information economy, which we published in June 2013. In our continued thinking about convergence, the network society and how that may unfold, I am finding that our analysis reaffirms and re-invigorates the logic, originally expressed as ‘convergence’ in the nineties, of bringing the various elements of communications and media (not just the four world ‘silos’ but also the disparate and now blurring ‘layers’) together under the umbrella of a single regulatory agency.  

In that paper, we discussed the need for the regulator to be flexible and rapidly adaptive to changing industry circumstances. This approach inherently considers the regulator as a network agent, seeking influence rather than control, ACMA playing an agile role with cut-through communications, proactive and pragmatic facilitation and ‘fit for purpose’ in any necessary regulatory determinations.  

The ‘outcomes’ approach adopted in our most recent Corporate Plan is intended to drive this established agenda of responsiveness to contemporary industry and market realities. 

Being a network influence, agility and responsiveness is our new black. There is plenty happening in the ACMA. Grahame, to another successful summit.

Footnotes

(1) Communications Day newsletter, 12 March 2014, reporting OpenSignal, a UK network-testing firm’s latest findings.




Last updated: 09 April 2014