Apparatus licences are usually renewable every year, but some licences are issued for much shorter or longer periods. This page explains how decisions are made about the length of a licence.
Under the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) is responsible for issuing apparatus licences.
While most apparatus licences are issued for a renewable one year period, licences can be issued for up to five years, and even longer for:
a datacasting transmitter licence – 10 years (Section 103(5) of the Act)
a digital radio multiplex transmitter licence – 15 years (Section 103(6) of the Act).
There are some circumstances in which the ACMA will issue or reissue licences periods as short as a few days or weeks, or as long as several years.
Once a licence is issued to you, it cannot be cancelled without cause (such as breaching licence conditions, or the Act, or breaking another law).
A licence does not contain an automatic right of renewal.
Section 100 of the Act governs how the ACMA can use its discretion to decide whether to issue a licence. The ACMA must consider everything it decides is relevant, but especially:
the effect on radiocommunications of the proposed operation of the device being authorised by the licence [subsection 100(4)]
matters such as if you have had a licence cancelled in the previous two years, or if a frequency assignment certificate has already been issued [subsections 100(5) and 100(6)].
Section 104 of the Act requires that licences issued by the ACMA are coordinated with the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan (ARSP), and any applicable band plan. Licences that do not coordinate with the plans must be issued for no more than 30 days, with the possibility of one 30 day renewal.
Reasons for restricting licence periods
To decide how long a licence should be issued for, the Act (section 3) tells the ACMA to consider how limiting the period of the licence will:
ensure efficient allocation and use of the spectrum
maximise overall public benefit from use of the spectrum
make adequate provision for public or community services
be responsive and flexible in meeting the needs of users of the spectrum.
The ACMA's decision-making checklist details what is considered.
The following examples list some situations where a lengthy licence period is not appropriate.
Band under review
The ACMA is responsible for planning radiofrequency spectrum or frequency bands.
Some frequency bands are sometimes redesignated to accommodate new services. This may make it necessary for the ACMA to reallocate existing users in affected bands or restricting licence periods for particular uses.
The international table of frequency allocations is subject to ongoing changes. International developments with the International Telecommunication Union World Radio Conference program are always taken into account by the ACMA when a licence period is being considered.
This has particular relevance for services operating in bands where new services are likely to be introduced, particularly where the new arrangements will be implemented within the next five years.
Licensing in broadcasting services bands
No apparatus licence will be issued using frequencies in the broadcasting services bands for radiocommunications purposes except in those parts of the broadcasting services bands where:
Bands subject to a sunset clause
A sunset clause is a clause that permits the use of a frequency band for a particular purpose or purposes but only until a specific date. For example, a number of footnotes in the Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan are sunset clauses. Band plans may also include sunset clauses. Where a sunset clause is in place, the licence period will not extend beyond the cessation date specified in the sunset clause authorised by the licence.
Bands subject to spectrum licensing
The ACMA will pay attention to provisions of the Act (especially Part 3.2) relating to spectrum licensing, and the implications for existing apparatus licences in bands that the Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the Digital Economy has designated will be allocated or re-allocated by issuing spectrum licences.
Spectrum embargoes and inter-service co-ordination requirements
In order to minimise interference between dissimilar services, the ACMA can specify embargoes and inter-service co-ordination criteria. These assignment restrictions cover a range of topics including:
a service being denied access to a particular band or geographic area so another service may use it
new assignments for particular services in specified bands
moratoria (or embargoes) on assignments in specified bands of spectrum
technically simple inter-service co-ordination requirements that do not warrant the development of individual documentation.
Some examples of bands that were subject to embargoes and inter-service co-ordination are as follows:
Wireless local loop in the 3.4 GHz band (3.4 - 3.6 GHz) - Embargo 26
Services in the 1.71 - 2.3 GHz band - Embargo 23.
Services with a secondary status
Licence period and service status are two distinct issues. The secondary status of a service is not necessarily relevant to the question of how long a licence should be issued for. The right of such services to continue in operation is not simply a question of the length of the term, but a complex situation which may change over time because of the changing operation of higher status services. The secondary status of a service does not have a logical bearing on the granting of a longer licence period.
Apparatus licences to start sometime in the future
You may want a licence that takes effect at a future date. While there is no legal constraint to prevent a licence like this being issued, the ACMA will carefully consider, case-by-case, whether to grant such a request.
As well as taking into account the issues outlined in this information paper, the ACMA will also consider its business practices, fee revenue implications, and your reasons for wanting the licence to commence only on a future date.
Licences will only be issued where the future commencement date of the licence/period of the licence does not extend the expiry date of the licence beyond five years from the date of issue. Licence fees will be applied at the date of issue, regardless of the future date of effect of the licence.
The ACMA's decision-making checklist
These items that will be checked before a decision about the period of a licence will be made:
All matters covered by the objects of the Act and the overall scheme of the Act.
Section 100 of the Act matters.
Is the licence in accordance with the ARSP and any applicable band plan?
Is the band subject to review?
Are there any international developments?
Are the frequencies in the broadcasting services bands?
If yes, have the bands been made available for use?
Is the band subject to a sunset clause?
Is the band subject to spectrum licensing?
Are there any embargoes or inter-service co-ordination requirements in force?
Is the licence to be issued with a date of effect sometime in the future?
Are there any other relevant considerations?
Apparatus licence tenure policy
The ACMA has also developed a policy document outlining its approach towards the renewal of apparatus licences.
This policy is intended to:
provide guidance to existing apparatus licence holders about the processes to be followed at the expiry of a licence
clarify the ACMA’s decision-making approach for renewing apparatus licences, to provide greater certainty to existing apparatus license holders, and potential new licensees.