Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting today—the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation in Melbourne.
I pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging.
When I last spoke to the CommsDay Summit back in April, I released our inaugural ACMA-wide compliance priorities for 2019–20.
This morning, I would like to:
- reflect on our work to improve the experience of telecommunications consumers including providing some high-level insights from our upcoming complaints report
- provide an overview of our latest spectrum developments including our latest Five-year spectrum outlook and the upcoming World Radio Radiocommunications Conference at the end of the month.
Reflecting on 2018–19: Telecommunications consumers
Over the past year, we’ve had a strong focus on improving the experience of telecommunications consumers.
This is in response to our consumer research and industry data telling us that some consumers were facing challenges in getting services connected, faults fixed, and complaints successfully resolved.
In July 2018, we made a suite of new rules to address consumer concerns about moving to phone and internet services delivered by telcos over the NBN. The rules are designed to:
- help consumers get the right information when signing up with their telco
- maintain continuity of their services when moving to the NBN
- require telcos to handle consumers’ complaints quickly and effectively if they have an issue.
Throughout the financial year, we actively enforced both these new rules with 50 investigations into industry compliance. We recently:
- issued $88,200 in infringement notices for breaches of the NBN consumer information rules
- took enforcement action against 31 telcos for not complying with the requirements around complaints-handling processes.
The enforcement outcomes signal our intention to monitor compliance with communications sector rules closely and respond with enforcement action where it is warranted.
2018–19 telco complaints data
We have also enhanced our complaints data capability so that industry, consumers and government can better understand what sits behind complaints. This includes introducing new rules to improve our visibility of the complaints handled directly by telcos as well as complaints escalated to the TIO.
I had hoped to be able to say today that we have a full picture about the complaints in the industry. Unfortunately, we have ongoing concerns about the quality of data that have been provided by some telcos. This is disappointing given that industry have been on notice for quite some time about the increased appetite for more clarity about consumer complaints. It is alarming that telcos haven't implemented appropriate quality assurance processes to ensure they have an accurate understanding about what is happening with their own customers and are unable to provide this information to us as required by our rule.
We will be addressing these issues over the coming weeks and will have more to say when we release the full report.
Despite these concerns, I can provide some high-level insights into complaint trends for the 2018–19 financial year.
Overall, the total number of complaints to telcos and TIO complaints referred to telcos fell over the course of the financial year. This is encouraging news and shows the actions of government, regulators, industry and the TIO is starting to show improvements. The decline in TIO complaints referred to telcos suggests that telcos are getting better at managing complaints themselves and minimising escalations to the TIO.
In relation to individual service types, mobiles had the greatest volume of services in operation. Yet they received the lowest rate of complaints. And the rate of complaints declined each quarter over the financial year.
In what may be a surprise to some, fixed broadband services on old networks recorded a substantially higher rate of complaints than broadband services delivered over the NBN.
At the same time, complaints about NBN voice-only services have remained stubbornly high throughout the year. We are talking to reporting telcos to identify the root cause of these complaints and any actions being taken to rectify it.
Our data will be of particular interest to some as it provides a breakdown of complaints by NBN technology type. A few high-level observations:
- The maturity of the technology does impact the complaints numbers. NBN satellite services had lowest rate of complaints of all NBN access technologies with just 55 complaints per 10,000 services in operation. By contrast, FTTC complaints are quite high in the September quarter at 744 complaints per services in operation. However, they decline substantially as the financial year proceeds ending at 282 per 10,0000 services in operation for the June quarter.
- Unsurprisingly, some of the challenges with the HFC rollout can be seen in the complaints data. Complaints per 10,000 services in operation increased in both the December and March quarters before declining in the June quarter.
We are currently finalising our annual complaints report and look forward to releasing the full report in the coming weeks.
Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code
Our complaints data is also informing our ongoing monitoring, compliance and regulatory development activities going forward this financial year. We are continuing to have discussions with NBN Co, industry and the TIO on what the data is showing and find out more about what is driving trends.
We are currently looking at the rules to see if changes are needed as we near the peak of the NBN migration. Our public consultation for the review has concluded and we’re now considering submissions. Our 2019–20 compliance program is currently being rolled out. As I mentioned back in April, telecommunications consumer safeguards is one of our key ACMA compliance priorities.
We are continuing actively enforce compliance with our NBN rules to help Australian consumers and businesses migrate their phone and internet services.
We will also have a strong focus in ensuring compliance with the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code which came into effect in August.
In reviewing the code, there was evidence that the rules around industry selling practices, credit assessment and hardship needed close examination.
We saw concerning trends from a range of sources:
- research such as the Financial and Consumer Rights Council’s ‘Rank the Telco Report’ showed concerns with existing industry processes
- members of our Consumer Consultative Forum were also highlighting some emerging concerns with consumers being signed up to multiple services, sometimes beyond their financial capacity
- our monitoring activities found deficiencies in the code rules that needed to be addressed to improve consumer outcomes.
The impact of this is serious, particularly for those in vulnerable circumstances, leading to financial hardship and denial of access to critical services.
It is pleasing that there are enhancements to the code to address these issues. New and enhanced rules in each of these areas require providers to:
- sell their products in a fair, transparent, responsible and accurate manner and clearly explain key terms and conditions, to assist consumers to make informed decisions
- apply well-defined credit assessment procedures that involve providers obtaining details about the financial capacity of prospective customers and obtaining an external credit check. These arrangements apply to all new customers on total contracts with a value of more than $1000 (generally $45 per month), and to pre-paid customers moving to post-paid accounts
- comply with increased and more specific financial hardship requirements. This includes having at least three options for keeping customers connected, such as transferring to a pre-paid service or spend controls.
When we registered the Code back in July, we put industry on notice that we would be actively enforcing compliance with the new rules. Although we won’t reveal all our plans, I can highlight three key monitoring activities we will be undertaking this financial year.
Firstly, we are conducting a shadow shopping exercise to test compliance with the new credit assessment rules and gain an understanding of what consumers experience when purchasing communications products.
We are also examining any systemic or egregious issues relating to the selling practices of providers, especially for those consumers who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. In part, this is about ensuring that sales representatives promote and sell services in a responsible, fair and accurate manner.
Finally, we will be publishing a ‘state of play’ report on the extent of financial hardship and use of financial hardship measures in the telco sector.
We expect providers to align their practices in full with these new obligations, and we will respond appropriately where they fall short of this expected standard.
Looking forward, we are also looking to complement our industry data with new research about the expectations and experiences of both consumers and businesses in using their services.
A focus for this research will be on customer service and making complaints, which have been shown to be perennial areas of concern.
The new research currently in the field will enable us to:
- better understand changing behaviours, expectations, and preferences in engaging with modern communications services
- monitor satisfaction with communications products and service providers
- explore current and emerging issues that impact the experience of communications consumers and contribute to consumer detriment.
We’re hoping that we will be in a position to publish the research results early next year.
A few weeks ago, we released our Five-year spectrum outlook—commonly referred to as FYSO—following a process of industry consultation.
As many of you will be aware, FYSO is where we outline our annual work plan for the coming financial year. However, we also use FYSO to outline our views on the pressures on spectrum management over the coming five years.
Spectrum is a finite and valuable commodity with multiple and competing uses. There are a range of trends driving demand for spectrum, both here and internationally.
While we need to plan for the medium to long term, demand for new spectrum and for changes to the existing arrangements continues to evolve quickly and we need to be in a position to react to changes.
In particular, there is increased appetite for wireless broadband, both mobile and fixed, particularly in the context of 5G services, ongoing commercialisation of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, advances in broadcasting technology, rapid innovations in satellite technologies, and new approaches to spectrum sharing.
Demand for spectrum is high and influenced by the state of competition in downstream markets. As we have highlighted in the FYSO, we will be developing our consideration of how spectrum allocation impacts downstream markets. We will seek input from our stakeholders to ensue competition issues are considered holistically in the planning and management of spectrum.
As technologies develop, spectrum can be used more efficiently. For example, improved transmission and encoding technologies, along with improved antenna technology provides greater options in the use of high frequency bands opening these up for greater use.
To address rising demand, more efficient configuration and use of bands already licenced is a vital adjunct to clearance and reallocation of new bands. It rests upon existing licensees and well as us to ensure defragmentation and reconfiguration of existing spectrum holdings can work to get the best utility from the spectrum.
However, one constant remains the continued demand for more activity from the ACMA than can be accommodated within our finite resources.
To allow industry to plan accordingly, we have developed and published our spectrum management priorities in FYSO. In developing and updating these priorities, the ACMA considers a range of relevant considerations, including:
- maximising the efficient allocation and use of RF spectrum
- changes in the development, availability and take-up of radiofrequency technologies, both in Australia and internationally
- spectrum management trends, including through the four-yearly WRC process and the least cost and least restrictive approach to achieve policy objectives.
Although our approach may look a bit piecemeal at times, it’s part of a wider strategy to ensure spectrum is available for a range of parties and services. When planning the allocation of finite resource, not everyone is going to be happy. However, we are undertaking a dedicated strategy to ensure we can support all uses.
Major planning decisions supporting 5G
The ACMA has undertaken extensive planning activity to support the deployment of 5G services in Australia. This has and is being done in the context of all spectrum users.
In Australia 5G will use spectrum across an unprecedentedly wide range of frequencies, spanning low band below 1 GHz, mid-band between 1 and 6 GHz—some of which is already used for wireless broadband and high band spectrum above 6 GHz specifically the mmWave bands.
With their different characteristics including propagation, incumbency, legacy planning and international harmonisation means each of these bands requires a specific approach by the ACMA.
Recent ACMA decisions on the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands have established new planning arrangements to make over 5 GHz of millimetre Wave spectrum available. We expect this spectrum to be of great interest for both terrestrial and satellite broadband services.
This is in addition to shared access to millimetre Wave spectrum under class licensing arrangements in the 60 GHz band which the ACMA made available in August 2019.
Planning decisions made in the 26 and 28 GHz bands places Australia at the forefront of identifying millimetre Wave spectrum available for 5G and next generation satellite services internationally. For countries that have announced decisions, Australia is at the upper end of total bandwidth identified for 5G. Japan, Hong Kong and many European countries have similarly looked at identification for localised wireless broadband use and wide-are deployments.
Australia is also at the upper end for spectrum identified for ubiquitous earth stations use in the 28 GHz band (for example, earth stations in motion and fixed user terminals like those used by NBN Co’s Sky Muster).
By planning the 26 GHz and 28 GHz bands virtually together, we are striving to support a wide range of spectrum interests under a variety of licensing arrangements. These arrangements will enhance competition both between different spectrum uses and provide an opportunity for new entrants in the band.
To implement these planning decisions, the ACMA has commenced development of a range of licensing and technical conditions. Technical Liaison Groups are being set up and we have been consulting on the new area-wide licence approach to see if that is of interest to the industry for use in the millimetre wave bands.
This work will progress to support an allocation of spectrum licences in the 26 GHz band via an auction in the first quarter of 2021.
We are also working internationally to identify additional spectrum for 5G uses and with the Department of Communications and the Arts and industry representatives, will be attending the World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-19) in the next week.
The conference occurs every 3–4 years to revise the radio regulations. These set out international arrangements for use of spectrum and satellite orbits. Australia will be sending a delegation to promote and protect Australian interests in spectrum management and spectrum harmonisation. Particular areas of focus for us will be on agenda items 1.5, 1.13, 7 and 10 looking at earth stations in motion, large constellation non-geostationary orbit satellites and additional spectrum for mobile broadband services (or 5G) in the mmWave bands.
Turning to the domestic environment again, the ACMA has continued to engage with spectrum users to explore developments in effective spectrum management.
We recently held a spectrum tune-up to commence discussions on new approaches to spectrum sharing in Australia.
Spectrum sharing is fundamental to the effective management of spectrum. In its most basic form, spectrum sharing is commonplace, and it can be said that all access to spectrum involves sharing in one form or another. Licensed access to spectrum inherently involves what can be termed ‘traditional’ sharing approaches.
In recent years, there has been an emergence of ‘non-traditional’ sharing approaches. These include new dynamic spectrum access technologies that can make decisions on which spectrum can be accessed at a given time and location.
As with all forms of resource sharing, spectrum sharing requires a degree of compromise between multiple uses and/or users. The potential introduction of ‘non-traditional’ sharing approaches will need to be careful considered to ensure that the benefits provided by these new concepts are not outweighed by degrading the utility of spectrum. Participants at the tune-up provided important insights into how dynamic spectrum sharing could be implemented in Australia and the various challenges which will need to be overcome.
In addition to hearing from participants at the tune-up we’ve sought written submissions from stakeholders on issues discussed at the tune-up and any additional thoughts on ‘non-traditional’ sharing approaches. We see this as a first step in considering new sharing approaches in Australia. The ACMA will shortly be releasing a paper which outlines our next steps and, as always, we will continue to engage with you on our spectrum work program.
As you can see. we have full program of work that affects the interests and operations of the communications industry. Thanks for your continued engagement and we look forward to working with you as the year progresses.
I thank CommsDay for the opportunity to provide an update on the ACMA’s activities and I hope you all enjoy today’s sessions.