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COVID-19: Important information for industry

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Update 19 June 2020

Commercial television broadcasters—Australian children’s drama

In April, the ACMA granted temporary relief to commercial television broadcasters with their annual quotas for Australian drama and children’s drama. This covered up to and including 31 December 2020.

Children’s drama obligations

In addition to annual requirements for Australian and children’s drama, broadcasters must meet three-yearly, or triennial, obligations. The triennial period for children’s drama is 2018–20.

This means that, normally, commercial broadcasters should broadcast at least 96 hours of Australian children’s drama from the beginning of 2018 to the end of 2020.

Our decision to grant regulatory relief in the 2020 calendar year means the ACMA will not take enforcement action for non-compliance with triennial obligations. This is conditional on the broadcast of at least 64 hours of first-release Australian children’s drama during that time.

This balances the need for regulatory relief and gives certainty for broadcasters, while supporting audience access to quality Australian children’s drama.

Australian drama triennial obligations

The triennial period for Australian drama is 2020–22. We are working with stakeholders on how to approach these obligations.

Update 20 May 2020

Relief for regional commercial radio broadcasters

The ACMA recognises that regional commercial radio stations have been facing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including impacts on the availability of and ability to source local news content. Some regional newsrooms have also reported experiencing difficulties due to reduced staffing and work from home arrangements.

Local news and information remain important services during this time and regional broadcasters continue to deliver content of significance to their communities. However, the pandemic has meant some stations have not been able to fully meet their local news and information requirements in the short term. Commercial Radio Australia has provided a commitment that stations will still broadcast at least 80 per cent of their annual local news and information requirements where they have been directly impacted by the pandemic.

In response, the ACMA has agreed to provide reasonable and practical temporary relief for trigger-event affected stations in relation to:

  • the minimum number of weekly eligible local news and weather bulletins and community announcements required to be broadcast from 1 March to 30 June 2020 (and corresponding requirements in annual local content plans); and
  • the submission of annual compliance reports, which may now be provided up until 31 December 2020.

The relief reflects the specific nature of the requirements in sections 61CD and 61CE Broadcasting Services Act 1992. It is conditional on the sector’s commitments that stations will broadcast 80 per cent of the required local news and weather bulletins and community announcements for 2019-20, noting that the broader obligation on regional broadcasters to provide up to 3 hours local programming on business days continues to apply.

To give effect to the relief, the ACMA will not take enforcement action for non-compliance with sections 61CD, 61CE, 61CP and 61CPA of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for the periods outlined above where the alternative industry commitments have been met.

Update 23 April 2020

Telco industry relief

The ACMA recognises that the telecommunications industry is providing critical services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Telco providers are working with the Australian Government to ensure consumers and small business, including those experiencing hardship, remain connected during this time. In the circumstances, it is important that telcos are able to focus their resources on the most urgent needs of customers.

The ACMA has agreed to exercise forbearance by not taking enforcement action for non-compliance with specific provisions of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, as long as the relevant telco provider meets alternative commitments.

Telco peak body Communications Alliance Ltd has made these alternative commitments which are set out on the Communications Alliance website.

The forbearance generally relates to extended timeframes and more flexibility for telcos to meet some consumer protection obligations until 31 July 2020.

The ACMA will continue to enforce all other provisions of the TCP Code, including critical consumer protection safeguards related to credit management, disconnections and financial hardship.

This regulatory forbearance will also be exercised in favour of telco providers who are not members of Communications Alliance provided that they meet the commitments as set out on the Communications Alliance website.

Update 15 April 2020

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACMA has continued to respond to industry requests for regulatory relief and other actions. The ACMA has recently made the following decisions.

Commercial television broadcasters

The ACMA recognises that the television production sector has been particularly hard hit by physical distancing rules required to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is having dramatic flow-on effects for commercial free-to-air and subscription television broadcasters as their production pipelines have effectively shut down.

In response, the ACMA has agreed to provide temporary relief for:

  • Australian drama, Australian documentary, and Children’s and Preschool program quota obligations on commercial television licensees; and
  • minimum levels of expenditure by subscription television broadcasting services on new eligible drama programs.

The ACMA will exercise forbearance by not taking enforcement action for non-compliance with the following obligations for the period up until and including 31 December 2020:

  • Parts 6 through 9 of the Broadcasting Services (Australian Content) Standard 2016 (ACS) and CTS8(1), CTS8(3), CTS13, CTS 14 and CTS18 of the Children’s Television Standard 2009 (CTS) by commercial television licensees; and
  • Division 2A of Part 7 (except for Subdivisions H and J) of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 by subscription television licensees.

We encourage licensees to continue to broadcast Australian and children’s content that has already been produced, noting the protections set out in Part 3 of the CTS will continue to apply to any children’s programming (and associated advertising) that is broadcast.

Any need to extend this forbearance period and how this forbearance may impact triennial content obligations will be considered by the Authority, in consultation with industry, over the coming months.

Mobile providers

COVID-19 has dramatically reduced international travel, while placing increased domestic demands on mobile providers.

Accordingly, new obligations to enhance customer notifications and expenditure caps for mobile services will be temporarily delayed.

All mobile providers will be given regulatory relief until 31 December 2020 from the new notification and expenditure cap obligations that come into effect on 1 July 2020 under the International Mobile Roaming Determination and associated revised provisions under the Mobile Premium Services Code.

To give effect to the relief, the ACMA will exercise forbearance by not taking enforcement action from 1 July until 31 December 2020 for non-compliance with the following obligations:

Telecommunications Service Provider (International Mobile Roaming) Determination 2019 (IMR Determination)

  • Clause 7 of the IMR Determination, provided that where there are any obligations in the IMR Determination which require a carriage service provider (CSP) to use a preferred method of communication, a CSP uses SMS as the method of communication.
  • Clause 13(9) of the IMR Determination, provided that a CSP instead notifies customers about maximum charge information when the customer reaches 100 per cent of the included value of an included value pack.
  • The requirement to include information about the cost of MMS messages in a CSP’s maximum charge information, as per the definition of maximum charge information in the IMR Determination.

C637:2019 Mobile Premium Services (MPS) Code

  • Clause 4.1.13

Forbearance is exercised for the MPS Code on the condition that mobile providers will notify the ACMA of any new content providers that enter the market.

Narrowcasters

High and low power open narrowcasting markets are currently experiencing disrupted conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To assist, the ACMA has:

  • Stopped the processes for issuing the Gosford and Hobart high power open narrowcasting (HPON) licences. We will provide more information on HPON processes in the future.
  • Cancelled the May 2020 allocation round of low power open narrowcasting (LPON) licences. The conduct of the allocation round scheduled for August 2020 will be assessed in July. 

27 March 2020 - A message from Authority

The communications and media sectors are playing a critical role in enabling Australian consumers, businesses and governments to communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In response, the ACMA understands that it needs to continually review and adjust its work program to ensure these sectors can prioritise their business-critical functions.

We have already:

  • delayed consultation processes for non-urgent matters such as the review of the Radiocommunications Act prohibitions/exemptions framework
  • suspended consultation on proposed revisions to NBN consumer experience rules
  • extended the time for submissions to the Spectrum Pricing Review
  • suspended planned investigations into Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code compliance attestation rules
  • implemented deferral or payment by instalment arrangements for apparatus licence renewals
  • suspended our work in relation to measurement of media diversity and local news under our News Project.

We will also be reconsidering reporting requirements and timeframes for responses to statutory notices to ensure that affected regulated entities can focus on maintaining their services.

The ACMA is responsible for protecting Australian industry, consumers and audiences in areas that remain vital at this time—such as the accuracy of news, interference management and the availability of support for consumers who may be experiencing financial hardship or may otherwise be vulnerable.

However, the ACMA also recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic may create real difficulties for organisations to comply with their regulatory responsibilities, particularly in the short to medium term. This may be due to factors beyond their control, including the inability to access products and services from suppliers.

Where warranted, the ACMA will consider regulatory forbearance on a case-by-case basis. Any forbearance considered will be balanced against the potential risk of consumer harm, the seriousness of any breach of law, efforts of organisations to comply and all other relevant considerations.

We are committed to engaging with and working constructively and pragmatically with our stakeholders so we can remain informed of issues and challenges. We are receiving multiple requests from licensees/regulated entities for specific assistance and we are actively considering their requests. We will continue to provide updates on our website about further decisions as they are made.

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