When did the mobile phone base station deployment code come into effect?
The code was developed by Communications Alliance Ltd, and is titled Industry Code C564:2012 Mobile phone base station deployment. The code was registered by the ACMA and came into effect on 1 July 2012. The Industry Code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment covers the steps telecommunications carriers must take when deciding where to place a telecommunications facility such as a mobile phone base station.
The code replaces the Industry Code ACIF C564:2004 Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure, which was registered by the former Australian Communications Authority on 7 April 2005. Once a code is registered, the ACMA can enforce it.
Where can I get a copy of the code?
You can download it from the Communications Alliance website.
Why was the code revised?
In 2011, Communications Alliance undertook a periodic review of the previous code (Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure).
Communications Alliance formed a working group of representatives of mobile carriers and community groups to review the code. The review focussed primarily on consultation for new sites for mobile phone base stations.
A new code titled Mobile phone base station deployment was released for public consultation in August 2011. Communications Alliance made application in February 2012 to have the new code registered by the ACMA under Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.
The new code contains a number of enhancements, including:
- encouraging an improved collaborative approach between carriers, local councils and the community
- early identification of community-sensitive locations
- improving understanding of consultation requirements by simplifying readability and the code's structure
- providing a toolkit for carriers and their agents as part of the consultation process to maintain consistency in their approach
- greater accessibility of information about new base stations through a 'community consultation web portal.'
The code is scheduled for a periodic review in 2017.
Who does the code apply to?
The code applies to all carriers who intend to install, are installing, are operating, or are contracting or arranging for the installation of fixed radiocommunications infrastructure used to provide a public mobile telecommunications service. It applies to mobile phone carriers operating in Australia, including Telstra, Optus and Vodafone Hutchison Australia.
The code only applies to certain telecommunications infrastructure operated by carriers covered by the Telecommunications Act 1997. The code is not binding on other providers of radiocommunications infrastructure, such as broadcasters or operators of land mobile communications.
What types of installations does this code cover?
The installation of many telecommunications facilities is approved under local council planning schemes (development approval). The consultation requirements in the code do not apply to infrastructure that requires development approval, because consultation is usually part of council's development application process.
However, there are some installations that are exempt from development approval, with the most common being low-impact facilities. Low-impact facilities often make use of small antennas, including radiocommunications dishes, erected on existing towers or buildings, and are designed to be unobtrusive.
In practice, this means it will be mostly low-impact facilities that will need to meet the consultation process requirements under the code.
For more information about low-impact facilities, see the fact sheet on this topic on the ACMA website or contact the Radiocommunications Licensing and Telecommunications Deployment Section.
What obligations does the code place on carriers?
The code places many obligations on telecommunications carriers. For a full understanding of these, refer to the code itself. Under the code, carriers are required to:
- design and operate radiocommunications infrastructure to minimise electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure
- provide information to the public on request about EME for specific sites
- develop and implement consultation plans for certain facilities
- provide information to councils on network forward planning for the region if requested
- notify councils and the community before the construction of certain types of infrastructure
- turn off transmitters that are out of service
- document their decision-making process
- develop an internal complaints-handling mechanism.
The code also requires carriers to take into account objectives such as minimising emissions in the design and operation of sites. Under the code, 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 when deciding on placement for a site.
Does the code require telecommunications carriers to notify and consult with local councils and the community before deploying infrastructure at new sites?
Carriers are required to notify and consult with local councils and the community before deploying infrastructure at new sites, but only where development applications (DAs) are not required. Where DAs are required, consultation will happen in the DA process.
Section 6 of the code require carriers to notify councils in writing and meet minimum consultation requirements when consulting with local communities about installation of radiocommunications facilities at new sites that do not require a DA approval. The notification to council must set out information including the carrier's proposed community consultation strategy for the site.
The carrier must allow council 10 business days to provide comments in writing about the community consultation plan. The carrier must not proceed with the consultation process before it has considered and responded in writing to all of the issues raised by council. The community consultation plan must be in writing and set out the consultation that the carrier proposes to carry out in relation to the site.
Under section 5.1 of the code, carriers do not have to notify the general public of proposed low radiofrequency power infrastructure and fixed radio links. This is because the power of such devices is similar to that of a handheld mobile telephone. However, carriers do need to notify council, the manager, owner and occupier of the property where the proposed infrastructure is to be located, and the occupier of a residence in close proximity.
What is the purpose of the code?
The code embraces the view that carriers should notify and consult with a broader range of community interests than they might otherwise be obliged to under federal laws. It is intended to provide communities and local councils with the opportunity to provide their views to carriers about the installation of radiocommunications facilities.
By voluntarily developing the code, industry has shown its commitment to improving public consultation on the location of radiocommunications infrastructure.
The purpose of the code is to deal with community concerns about the design, operation and selection of sites for communications facilities, by allowing the community and councils greater participation in decisions made by carriers.
How does the code fit into the current regulatory environment?
The code supplements existing regulatory arrangements but cannot change regulations at local or state level. Carriers retain their rights to install low-impact facilities under the Telecommunications Act 1997. All mobile phone base stations must comply with the ACMA mandatory exposure limits for EME.
How is the code enforced?
Registration of the code enables the ACMA to use its powers under Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act to warn or direct participants in the relevant section or sections of the industry that are covered by the code to comply with the code.
The ACMA also promotes industry understanding of the provisions of the code. ACMA can enforce the code in line with sections 121 and 122 of the Telecommunications Act and may issue a warning to a carrier or direct it to comply with the code. Carriers must comply with a direction or face civil (financial) penalties of up to $250,000, as determined by the Federal Court.
I am a community member-how does the code affect me?
Compliance with the code means that the community is notified of radiocommunications infrastructure before it is constructed, and community members can express their opinions about the site to carriers. The code also requires information about the electromagnetic emissions from a site to be accessible.
I am in local government-how does the code affect me?
The code does not place any requirements on councils. However, it does provide them with an increased opportunity to become involved in the deployment of communications facilities, and to obtain information about the carrier's forward planning intentions.
Carriers are obliged by the code to provide councils with copies of their community consultation plans for the installation of facilities not requiring development approval. Council has 10 business days in which to comment on the consultation plan. Councils are encouraged to provide input on consultation plans given their local knowledge of the area.
How can I make a complaint if I think a carrier has not complied with the code?
If you believe a carrier has not complied with the code, the first step is to express your concerns to the carrier in writing. If you need assistance to place your complaint in writing, it is the duty of the carrier to provide assistance. The carrier will respond to you in writing. If you are not satisfied with the carrier's response, you can send your original complaint and the carrier's written response to the ACMA. More information about making a complaint is available on the ACMA website.
What will happen after I complain to the ACMA?
The ACMA will look at your complaint and investigate the matter if necessary. We will let you know of the action that is being taken. If the ACMA is concerned that the carrier is not complying with the Mobile phone base station deployment Code, it can issue a formal direction to comply. If the carrier breaches this direction, the matter can be referred to the Federal Court, which can place financial penalties on the carrier.
What can I do if I don't like where a carrier has placed a site?
You can only provide a valid complaint to the ACMA if a carrier has not met its obligations under the Mobile phone base station deployment Code. Under section 4.1 of the code, a carrier must consider many factors when deciding on a site including:
- minimising public exposure to EME
- whether it could be a community-sensitive location
- the outcome of consultation with councils and communities
- service objectives
- physical characteristics of the site, such as height and terrain
- ability to connect with the rest of the network
- cost factors.
No one factor is considered more important than the others and it is up to the carrier to balance their considerations in site selection. Carriers have other complaints-handling procedures (not covered by this code) to deal with complaints about the merits of a site.
What can I do about the mobile base station that is being built opposite my house?
The code does not deal with the merits of a site. The ACMA can only receive complaints about breaches of the code. Carriers have complaints-handling procedures to deal with this type of complaint. Each carrier may have different procedures. Refer to the carrier's website for more information.
What if a carrier has put a site near a sensitive location in my community?
The code does not specifically define community-sensitive locations, but provides examples of sites which have sometimes been considered sensitive; for example, child care centres, schools, aged care centres and hospitals.
While carriers have to consider the implications of community-sensitive locations, they are still able to place infrastructure there or nearby if they have balanced the location with other, equally important factors (see under What can I do if I don't like where a carrier has placed a site?). All mobile phone base stations must comply with the mandatory regulations for EME.
The code does not specify a distance at which infrastructure must be sited from community-sensitive locations. In some instances, infrastructure sited further away from a sensitive area may need to operate at greater power to meet service requirements and this may result in higher exposure levels in that sensitive location.
Where can I get additional information about radiofrequency health effects and related subjects?
Under section 10 of the code, carriers are required to provide free of charge to the public on request:
- information about how they address EME health and safety issues in relation to their networks
- information about where research reports on the health and safety impacts of radiofrequency infrastructure may be obtained.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) website www.arpansa.gov.au provides comprehensive information about EME.
What EME information must the carrier give me about a site?
Carriers must provide radiofrequency EME health and safety information to the public at no charge. For a specific site, the information the carrier must provide to the public on request includes the following:
- a description of their radiofrequency infrastructure on the site
- the operating frequency of the radiofrequency transmitter
- a declaration that their infrastructure is in compliance with the ACMA mandatory limits for general public exposure to radiofrequency EME
- coverage information
- the levels of exposure to EME in accordance with the ARPANSA report.
How do I interpret the EME site report?
An example of the EME site report is in Appendix C to the Mobile phone base station deployment Code. In the Table of Predicted EME Levels, the left-hand column gives the range of distances from the antenna at which the EME levels are predicted. The overall maximum value is given at the foot of the table.
If I need to contact the operator of a mobile phone tower, where can I find their contact details?
As the starting point, you need to identify the operator of the mobile phone tower of concern-typically one of Optus, Telstra or Vodafone Hutchison Australia. The Mobile Carriers Forum (MCF) hosts an electronic archive on www.rfnsa.com.au to provide selected information about proposed and existing mobile phone towers, such as the operator, the location and the EME site report. This archive does not contain information on all mobile phone towers.
Alternatively, identify the operator from contact details on signs displayed at the site. Contact details for mobile network operators are in the ACMA fact sheet Placement of mobile phone towers.
I prefer to get my site assessed by an independent organisation for EME-who should I contact?
If you would like independent measurements taken of the site at your own cost, the National Association of Testing Authorities Australia (NATA) has been appointed by the ACMA as the body to accredit organisations to assess radiofrequency field strengths. A list of accredited organisations is on the NATA website at www.nata.asn.au:
- Select 'Facilities or Labs' tab at the top of the page.
- Scroll down the page and click on 'Measurement Science and Technology'.
- Then click on 'Electromagnetic radiation hazard measurement'.