CTH Introduces Bill to Reform and Modernise Radiocommunications Framework

Thursday 10 September 2020 @ 1.50 p.m. | Legal Research

On 27 August 2020, the Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment (Reform and Modernisation) Bill 2020 (Cth) (‘the Bill’) was introduced to the House of Representatives. According to the Minister’s Second Reading Speech:

 “Radiofrequency spectrum is a vital resource which underpins many aspects of Australia's digital economy, such as the operation of fixed and mobile wireless communications networks. It is essential that the legislation governing the management of that spectrum is flexible and effective.”

The Bill is intended to amend the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth) (‘the Act’) by implementing some of the recommendations of the 2015 Spectrum Review. On 3 September, the Bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, with the Committee due to give their report on 4 November. 

Clarification of the Objects of the Act

Schedule 1 of the Bill clarifies that the primary object of the Act is the promotion of long-term public interest derived from the management of the spectrum. The Bill also provides 3 sub-objects which includes (1) the facilitation of efficient planning, allocation and use of the spectrum, (2) facilitation of the use of the spectrum for commercial, defence, national security, public safety and community purposes and (3) support for the communications policy objectives of the Government.

Schedule 2 proposes two mechanisms for the purpose of clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Minister and the regulatory body, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (‘ACMA’). Firstly, by providing the Minister with the power to issue ministerial policy statements, the Minister can provide policy guidance and convey government expectations and strategic priorities for ACMA's spectrum management functions. Secondly, the Bill proposes that ACMA be required to publish an annual work program for the purpose of ensuring transparency to users and the market. 

Amendments Involving Licenses

Schedule 3 of the Bill proposes to amend licensing processes and associated processes. In alignment with the amendments proposed in Schedule 1, the Minister’s involvement in process-based regulatory decision-making functions will be reduced and conferred to ACMA whilst the Minister will assume a higher-level role in providing policy guidance and strategy.

Firstly, the Bill proposes the streamlining spectrum allocation and reallocation processes. By providing ACMA with greater flexibility to develop fit-for-purpose allocation arrangements, spectrum can be brought to the market within shorter time frames.

Secondly, the Bill attempts to improve flexibility and reduce regulatory barriers between licence types. For instance, the Bill proposes that the maximum licence term for both apparatus licences and spectrum licences be extended to 20 years, with less regulatory barriers and more flexibility in the allocation process, and clearer processes governing renewal of licences. Furthermore, the Bill proposes that regulatory barriers that limit the issuance of both spectrum and apparatus licences in certain circumstances are to be removed. In general, the Bill clarifies the conditions for a licence to be issued or renewed have been more clearly stated, and are consistent between licence types. 

Thirdly, the Bill is intended to better reflect modern spectrum needs and supply chains. The Bill proposes the streamlining of device supply schemes by removing prescriptive legislative requirements and authorising ACMA to develop schemes in line with risk. ACMA will also be able to make rules or principles that prevent certain devices entering the market if they pose a risk to human health.

Furthermore,the Bill proposes the streamlining of equipment regulation by providing ACMA with powers to:

  1. make equipment rules that prescribe standards of equipment and impose obligations or prohibitions in relation to equipment;
  2. issue, vary, revoke or cancel permits and subject permits to conditions;
  3. make the breach of a permit an offence, contravention of the Act or both and subject to the respective criminal penalty or civil penalty; and
  4. impose interim or permanent bans on equipment.

Modernised Compliance and Enforcement Regime

Finally, the Bill outlines provisions for a modernised compliance and enforcement regime with more graduated enforcement mechanisms for breaches of the legislative framework. According to the Minister’s Second Reading Speech, the new regime will improve proportionality between the enforcement action and the seriousness of the breach. One of the key amendments is the introduction of a new civil penalty provision that prohibits a person from engaging in conduct that results in substantial interference, disruption or disturbance to radiocommuncations within Australia or between Australia and a place outside Australia.

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 Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment (Reform and Modernisation) Bill 2020 (Cth) - Bill and supporting information available from TimeBase's LawOne Service

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