What are NBN base stations?
The National Broadband Network (NBN) uses fixed wireless communications links to provide high-speed broadband in some areas beyond the reach of fixed-line infrastructure.
How do NBN base stations emit EME?
The fixed wireless links use radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) to communicate between NBN base stations and small rooftop installations on residences and business premises. EME exposure to the public from base stations is typically hundreds of times below the limits set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).
How does the ACMA regulate EME for NBN base stations?
The regulatory arrangements for the installation of radiocommunications facilities can be summarised as follows:
- NBN wireless base stations must not exceed EME safety exposure limits set by ARPANSA.
- The location and installation of new, free-standing NBN base stations is subject to state, territory and local government planning laws
- the installation of an NBN wireless base station that is a low-impact facility must comply with Schedule 3 to the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 (the Code of Practice).
Low-impact facilities are those which, because of their size and location, are considered to have a low visual impact and be less likely to raise significant planning, heritage or environmental concerns. Examples of low-impact facilities include:
- small radiocommunications dishes and antennae
- equipment mounted on existing structures such as buildings, poles or towers
- an extension of up to five metres on an existing tower, provided the tower has not been previously extended.
The installation of low-impact facilities must comply with the Code of Practice, which imposes a number of obligations on carriers such as providing landowners and occupiers with notice before installing a facility.
NBN fixed wireless base stations that are installed on a new free standing tower are not low-impact facilities and are therefore subject to state, territory and local government planning approval processes. The ACMA has no regulatory power to determine the location of such facilities. More information on the approval processes can be obtained from the relevant state or territory government agency.
It is important to note that NBN fixed wireless base stations are not mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure. As a consequence, the Industry Code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment does not apply to these facilities.
How can we be confident that NBN base stations are operating within the safety limits?
The highest values of the RF EME that the public would be exposed to from currently planned NBN base stations are less than one-hundredth of the Australian public exposure limit.
The ACMA understands that NBN follows all applicable planning requirements, and lists its wireless installations on the Radio Frequency National Site Archive. The archive contains information about mobile phone towers deployed by carriers and EME reports about communications facilities.
The ACMA conducted a compliance program in order to establish a base level of compliance for NBN base stations. As a result of this program, the ACMA is confident that NBN:
has a high level of compliance with the EME licence conditions
has a clear understanding about EME compliance obligations and associated record-keeping requirements
has processes in place to ensure that compliance assessments accurately reflect current environmental and site conditions
is appropriately addressing the underlying risk of EME exposure from its base stations
is highly cooperative and willing to work with the ACMA in relation to all aspects of its EME compliance.
As NBN wireless base stations and other EME emitting installations become more widespread, some people may be concerned about possible concurrent exposure to EME from multiple sources. ARPANSA has found that exposure to EME in the environment from various sources is very low and typically much lower than the allowable limits in the ARPANSA Standard.
Where an NBN base station is co-located with other mobile phone base stations, the concurrent EME of the site must fall within the EME safe limit.
Where can I go for more information?
More information about the installation of telecommunications facilities more generally, including low-impact facilities, is available from the ACMA website. Questions on the criteria used for siting of NBN wireless base stations should be directed to NBN.
The Commonwealth Department of Communications and the Arts has produced a video explaining EME regulation in Australia with particular focus on base stations.