I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on, which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
This is my first CommsDay speech since starting in the role as Deputy Chair of the ACMA in June this year. Thank you to Grahame and Petroc for this opportunity.
As the speakers and attendees of this conference are well aware, and as has been discussed in the past two days, in the not too distant future, we will be seeing the completion of the NBN rollout and the introduction of 5G mobile services, with both underpinning greater connectivity than ever before.
Today, I would like to discuss how we are proceeding with our work on the consumers’ experience of moving to the NBN and our role in the introduction of 5G, including through the 3.6 GHz auction.
ACMA review—implementing the recommendations
But firstly, I would like to talk to you briefly about recent developments at the ACMA, which may be of interest to stakeholders.
This month marks Nerida O’Loughlin’s 12-month anniversary as Chair and Agency Head of the ACMA. And, during the course of this year, the government has appointed new full-time Authority Members for five-year terms—myself, as Deputy Chair, Chris Jose as Full-time Member, Fiona Cameron as Full-time Member and it has reappointed James Cameron as Full-time Member for a further three years. And recently, Anita Jacoby has been appointed as an Associate Member of the Authority. As an Associate Member, her appointment relates to matters and decisions in the broadcasting and gambling spaces.
With the new members all now on board, we recently published on our website our Code of Conduct for Authority Members and Associates. While much of the detail in this document relates to how we operate internally, its publication, which will be joined by other documents in coming months, is designed to provide transparency of how the Authority operates.
In particular, I would like to draw to your attention one aspect of the code that is pertinent to our stakeholders. As an Authority we have decided that the members will take on lead areas, enabling them to provide focus and additional expertise in those specific fields.
This involves engaging with stakeholders in the relevant field and representing the Authority in relevant external forums.
We have decided that, as of September, I will be leading content, which incorporates broadcasting and gambling, Fiona Cameron is the lead on consumer issues, which encompasses consumer issues in the telecommunications, spam and Do Not Call spaces. James Cameron is leading us in spectrum issues under the Radiocommunications Act and Chris Jose in infrastructure under the Telecommunications Act.
While these arrangements enable us each to delve and engage more closely into certain areas, I emphasise that they do not invoke special legal status or power. All decisions will continue to be made by the Authority and by delegated officers, with decisions not made merely by an Authority Lead or indeed by any single member of the Authority. We all do now, and will continue to, fully participate in all aspects of the Authority’s regulatory decision-making, and not just in the field in which we may have special expertise or interest.
Migrating to the NBN
An area of considerable focus for the Authority over recent months, has been addressing the need to significantly improve consumers’ experiences as they move from their current telco service to a service delivered over the NBN.
In a perfect world, the migration of consumers to these services would be seamless.
But the scale and speed of its roll-out, the more complex supply chain, heightened consumer expectations about their communications services in general (not just NBN-based services) and the uniqueness of the Australian market presents real challenges for industry.
We recognise this and understand that rapid roll-out will create stresses, but it is also reasonable that consumers should expect a certain level of ‘service’ during the delivery.
It is worth reminding ourselves how we have reached the point we are at now.
Last year, the anecdotal evidence of consumer distress and confusion, along with the rapid increase in complaints to the TIO, it was clear service standards for conversion to the NBN were not being met. It was also clear that existing co-regulatory arrangements, along with issues surrounding the processes under the Wholesale Broadband Agreement, were struggling to serve consumers well.
In response, the ACMA investigated what the main consumer ‘pain points’ were. This we did through focused industry information gathering and consumer research. As an information-based regulator, a sound evidence base is the foundation of all our work. This enables us to look at outcomes from both the consumer and industry points of view.
I must be quite fair here, our industry information gathering exercise and our consumer research were undertaken at a particular point in time. The results, therefore, pre-date many of the concerted and collective efforts of the industry, NBN Co and government to improve the migration experience.
At that time, our consumer research showed that while most households and businesses had a positive experience, there were some issues: 31% of households, and 42% of businesses, had made at least one complaint to their telco.
From our consumer research, it was obvious that some consumers were losing confidence in migrating to services provided over the NBN. In addition, our industry information gathering found the lengthy supply chain made it challenging in some circumstances for the selected RSPs to update and provide information to their customers.
The exercise also showed that high proportions of consumers were escalating complaints to the TIO, with complaints to RSPs being dominated by service quality issues. So, the ACMA moved to put in place new rules that aim to ensure a smoother migration.
As a consequence, we specifically designed new rules to address these problems. After consultation and giving the industry the opportunity to ensure they are in a position to be able to comply with the rules, all rules are now in place.
The outcome we are aiming to achieve is that:
- Firstly, consumers will have the information they need to make informed choices about the NBN service that is right for them:
- RSPs must provide consumers with the information needed to choose the NBN service and the plan that is right for the consumer, before signing up to a service.
- Secondly, consumers will have greater confidence that their new service will work and will work as promised. Telcos will need to promptly check all new connections to make sure there is connectivity. They also need to verify any existing copper line connecting a customer to their new NBN service is capable of delivering the maximum data speed or speed tier specified in their chosen plan and provide remedies if that data speed plan can’t be supplied.
- Thirdly, consumers will have options if issues arise that mean their new service will take more time to work than planned:
- RSPs need to manage consumers’ connections to the NBN in a way that minimises disruption to the consumer’s access to their telco service. However, in those cases, where there is some delay in supplying a service delivered over the NBN to the consumer there are protections in place. If the NBN service isn’t working within three days of the attempted connection to the NBN, the telco must re-connect the consumer’s old service, or give the consumer an alternative option such as mobile broadband or agree an alternative arrangement with the consumer.
- Fourthly, consumers will have their complaints heard and addressed effectively:
- now RSPs have to acknowledge all consumer complaints within two working days, use their best efforts to resolve complaints on first contact, and otherwise, resolve complaints within 15 working days.
- Finally, carriers and service providers in the NBN supply chain must now provide the required ‘reasonable assistance’ to each other to manage consumer migrations and resolve complaints—we will specifically focus on any evidence of continuing ‘buck-passing’.
Undertaking research and putting the rules in place has been important to seek to improve consumers’ experience, but our job is not yet done.
We have put the telcos on notice that they need to fully understand the new rules and take immediate steps to embed them in their business practices.
Unlike co-regulatory industry codes, the new rules are immediately and directly enforceable by the ACMA. We have released a ‘statement of approach’, which is on our website. This provides some detail on our approach to compliance and enforcement of the new rules.
We have started our compliance and monitoring activities with the complaints-handling standard, which came into effect on 1 July, with the remainder of the NBN consumer experience rules effective from 21 September.
We have audited the written complaints-handling processes published by a selection of telcos. Our staff have made preliminary assessments of their processes against the requirements listed in the standard.
Unfortunately, our findings to date indicate there are a number of telcos that have a long way to go to comply with the requirements. We are in contact with a number of them and will publish a report of our findings when concluded.
We expect the first report, providing details in relation to those investigations that have been concluded, to be available in coming weeks.
Where we identify a potential breach of any of the new rules, we will take prompt action that is proportionate to the risks and harms involved. The ACMA has available to it, a suite of remedies ranging from formal warnings, to remedial directions and infringement notices, to initiation of proceedings in the Federal Court.
If a telco breaches an industry standard, the ACMA can commence court proceedings seeking remedies such as injunctions and civil penalties of up to $250,000. For breaching a service provider rule, the maximum civil penalty a court can impose is $10 million.
As you would appreciate, there are still a substantial number of Australians who are yet to migrate their services to the NBN.
With nearly four million Australians expected to move their services to the NBN by the end of 2020, there is a lot to do in a relatively short period of time for all parties involved.
This means early and consistent industry compliance with the new rules is essential. And, we will keep on working to improve the experience of consumers through our compliance and enforcement program.
Now, to spectrum.
The future opportunities provided by the NBN are complemented by those provided by new wireless technologies, particularly through the rollout of 5G.
And those technologies require spectrum.
Spectrum has become a key enabler of the digital economy and in a future where data is the new currency, traditional telcos are competing with new market entrants to provide the pipe for that data.
Demand for spectrum to support wireless broadband has been driving changes in highest-value spectrum use across a number of bands over the past two decades. But we’re also experiencing increasing pressure from other existing spectrum users seeking to adapt and respond to all these changes, as well as demand from emerging new spectrum users, including utilities, the automotive industry, over-the-top service providers such as Facebook and start-ups.
At the ACMA, our prime goal is to make sure that spectrum management maximises the economic and social benefits and the opportunities that these technologies can deliver to all Australians.
Claims that 5G will accelerate a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ through the internet, and promises of what 5G connectivity will be able to deliver to health, transport and agriculture, are all contributing to the unprecedented government-wide attention being paid to 5G.
While 5G is the latest incarnation of wireless broadband demand, we are also expecting to see terrestrial wireless broadband pushing, for the first time, above 6 GHz into the so-called ‘millimetre waves’.
With that said, I would like to give you an update on our planning for spectrum releases that will support 5G and other services.
3.6 GHz band
Following the issue of reallocation declarations for the 3.6 GHz band by Minister Fifield early this year, we’re now finalising preparations for an auction of the band—known as the ‘pioneer’ or ‘frontier’ band for 5G.
The ACMA has designed the auction process to maximise efficiency, competitive outcomes and the full utility of this spectrum for 5G services.
To help potential bidders prepare for the auction, we released an Applicant Information Package in July that sets out key auction information. Bidders have now registered for participation and the ACMA is on track to commence the auction in late November.
With the allocation of the 3.6 GHz spectrum, Australia will be at the forefront of realising next generation 5G technologies and services for the Australian public and industry.
But, we know that demand for spectrum does not stop there. As I indicated, we are pushing our planning attention into the millimetre wave bands. For some time, millimetre wave frequency bands have been considered the next frontier in the provision of mobile broadband services.
26 GHz and 28 GHz band consultations
The 26 GHz band along with the 28 GHz band are likely to be the first of the millimetre wave bands to be allocated internationally on a widespread basis for wireless broadband services.
We recently released an options paper for consultation, which represents the next step in the ACMA’s planning of the 26 GHz band. The paper outlines a range of potential options for both:
- what should be allocated, in terms of specific frequencies and areas
- how the band should be allocated, in terms of, which licence types should be adopted in the band to meet a range of potentially varying wireless broadband use cases.
As part of our consultations we are looking at the possible suite of licensing options that can be used to support not only a range of different 5G use cases, but also provide flexible solutions for many different types of businesses that are wanting to access spectrum suitable for 5G.
Consultations close on 2 November 2018, so we are keen to hear from you if you have an interest in this band. As we consider the final shape of arrangements for the band, we will be informed by the evidence and views provided to us from stakeholders.
As we look internationally, we are aware that many administrations are looking to prioritise either the 26 GHz or 28 GHz band for 5G, depending on their local incumbency issues.
So, to assist us and the industry to take a ‘holistic’ view of all issues affecting both of these bands, we also released in September a discussion paper presenting some early ACMA thinking on broad planning scenarios for the 28 GHz band.
By looking at all potential future uses of the band in the context of the current uses, including fixed satellite services and how it is anticipated, those uses may evolve over time—we will be able to start planning for the future. In particular, we can consider whether some or all of the band should be used for wide fixed and mobile broadband applications.
We are seeking information from stakeholders to inform our future planning options and have posed a number of future use scenarios to garner discussion.
Consultations are open until 9 November 2018, and these submissions will help the ACMA assess the case for any change to planning or licensing arrangements in the band. We will consult further before any regulatory decisions are made.
Five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO)—shaping the spectrum work program
As you can see planning for future spectrum use is a long-term process, which involves a number of elements not least of, which are monitoring developments in the international communications environment and responding to changing spectrum demand in our own market.
In particular, changes to spectrum use need to be well thought out, planned well in advance, managed and communicated thoroughly.
To manage this process and to communicate our intentions each year we publish our five-year spectrum outlook. It is an important transparency measure that allows us to communicate the trends and spectrum demands that we are seeing, and to convey our spectrum management work program for the year. It is a key way that spectrum users can inform and shape spectrum management priorities for coming years.
While feedback on each year’s rolling FYSO is a critical input to our spectrum management agenda, this year, for the first time, we have released a draft FYSO for consultation.
We received 33 submissions, including a couple of confidential submissions, which is a terrific response and more than we’ve received in recent years. We’ve made significant changes to our work program as a result of the feedback we received from submissions.
In response to submissions, the ACMA revised its forward allocation program for major spectrum auctions and we reprioritised and brought forward planning work in a number of key bands in response to fast moving developments in the spectrum environment. For example, we have now flagged 3.3–3.4 GHz as another band to do further work on possible dynamic sharing models.
We published the final 2018–22 FYSO during September. There is a standing invitation for stakeholders to continue to engage with the ACMA during the year on all the elements of the work program we have detailed in the FYSO.
RadComms—delivering the future of spectrum management
In the spirit of continuing to engage with us on spectrum issues, I encourage you to join us at our annual RadComms conference, being held at the Maritime Museum in Sydney on 30–31 October this year. It is always a great two days of hearing about the latest industry developments affecting spectrum and engaging with the ACMA Authority and staff.
This year’s conference program is exploring the future of spectrum management and use.
From the future of broadcasting platforms, to the imminent deployment of 5G networks and new satellite and space initiatives, RadComms 2018 will give participants a broad insight into future communications technologies, services and applications.
We have a strong line-up of speakers, with keynote speeches by futurist Mark Pesce, ACCC Chairman Rod Sims, Richard Windeyer of the Department of Communications and the Arts, and sessions led by a range of industry experts.
I hope you can join us in Sydney for what promises to be a very interesting RadComms program.
So again, thank you to CommsDay for the opportunity to address you today and provide an update on the current challenges and future opportunities we see for the sector.