the net in
This page looks at regulation of Australian telecommunications
as of August 2003.
It covers -
legal framework - federal law and
the co-regulation regime
responsibility and DCITA
ACA, ABA, ACMA and technical regulation
ACCC and competition regulation
TIO and industry bodies
essence, regulation of telecommunications in Australia
has three aspects: technical regulation (eg standards),
rules about how the network is used (affecting for example
copyright and censorship), and competition regulation
(reflecting the dominant position of the five largest
telecommunication groups). The 'co-regulatory' regime
provides for substantial self-regulation by industry,
both through formal codes and through administration of
particular matters (including disputes) by industry bodies.
Section 51(v) of the Australian Constitution establishes
telecommunications (including broadcasting) as a Commonwealth
- ie national - power.
Subject to section 92 of the Constitution the Commonwealth
is able to make laws with respect to telecommunications.
That power embraces legislation such as
Telecommunications Act 1997 (here),
the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (here),
which regulates television and radio broadcasting,
the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online
Services) Act 1999 (BSA
Act) - discussed here
- which provides the basis for federal regulation of
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications
Offences and Other Measures) Act 2004.
legal framework for Australian telecommunications regulation
involves a broad range of legislation, some concerned
specifically with market activity within the telecommunications
industry, some with content regulation (eg censorship,
security and copyright)
and some with general trade practices/competition questions.
Responsibility for that legislation involves several federal
ministers and their subordinate departments and agencies.
The legislation establishes a "co-regulatory regime",
with substantial self-regulation by telecommunication
service providers. That industry self-regulation is encouraged
through the development of voluntary industry codes of
practice and technical standards, fostered in particular
by the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF).
The expectation is that self-regulation will encourage
industry to respond to customer needs without first having
to overcome excessive regulatory restrictions.
Cogent analysis of the regime is provided in Australian
Telecommunications Regulation (Uni of NSW: UNSW Press
2004) edited by Alasdair Grant.
As noted on preceding pages of this profile, policy direction
reflects a broad consensus characterised by -
that competition within the telecommunication sector
produces public goods (eg lower prices for consumers,
greater availability of infrastructure, scope for business
users to spread risk)
substantial degree of industry self-regulation as not
only politically and economical desirable but technically
essential, since government agencies are not equipped
to address some technical concerns
differentiation between technical regulation (eg network
standards) and competition regulation (attention to
anticompetitive behaviour, particularly by dominant
players), with the latter forming part of a broader
economy-wide competition policy
on private sector investment in and management of networks,
in contrast to past shibboleths about public sector
ownership of the "commanding heights" of the
that particular operators may be owned and controlled
by offshore interests, in contrast to restrictions on
ownership and control of broadcasters
of service standards, with notions of a basic voice
service (reflected in the Universal Service Obligation)
for all Australians and what are tacitly premium services
for which access is determined by geographical location
or preparedness to pay additional charges.
As preceding pages of this profile have suggested, there's
been less agreement on specific questions. Arguably the
1997 legislation - and implementation by bodies such as
the ACCC - was 'pro-competition' but inadequately 'pro-competitor',
favouring the incumbent operators.
Eli Noam's 'Entrepreneurship & Government in Telecommunications'
- in The Emergence of Entrepreneurship Policy
(Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2003) edited by David
Hart - comments that "it is difficult to do competitive
costs of new networks were higher than expected, from
truck rolls to customer acquisition to capacity planning.
And the incumbents were not passively accepting their
challengers but instead fighting them through market
responses, foot-dragging and regulatory delay. They
were helped by the risk-averse attitudes of important
customers who wanted to be sure that the new network
providers would be round next month
noting incumbency advantages such as network externalities
and economies of scale.
ministerial responsibility and DCITA
The minister with most direct responsibility is the Minister
for Communications, Information Technology & the Arts
(currently former Attorney-General Daryl Williams QC),
presiding over what's been hyped as the 'content &
That portfolio encompasses -
two national broadcasters (ABC and SBS)
Department of Communications, Information Technology
& the Arts (DCITA)
and Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO,
formerly the autonomous National Office for the Information
cultural institutions such as the National Museum of
Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and
Australian Communications Authority (ACA)
latter agencies - collectively the equivalent of the US
Federal Communications Commission - operate autonomously
but are technically part of the department rather than
formally established as statutory authorities.
In developing national telecommunications policy other
players include the Attorney-General's Department (particularly
for intellectual property concerns), the 'industry' department
(sometimes perceived as keen to foster local industry
development at the expense of deregulation) and specialists
such as the Productivity Commission. The latter for example
released a report
on Telecommunications Competition Regulation
the ACA, ABA and technical regulation
In June 2005 the Australian Communications Authority and
Australian Broadcasting Authority merged to form the Australian
Communications & Media Authority (ACMA).
The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) was established
in 1997 through the merger of the Australian Telecommunications
Authority (Austel) with the Spectrum Management Agency.
It operates in tandem with the Australian Competition
& Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Its formal basis is the Australian Communications
Authority Act 1997 (here).
It exercises powers under the Telecommunications Act
1997, the Radiocommunications Act 1992,
Spam Act 2003 (discussed here)
and other related legislation.
The ACA is responsible for regulating Australian telecommunications
and radiocommunications, including promoting industry
self-regulation and managing the radiofrequency spectrum.
It also has significant consumer protection responsibilities.
telecommunications carriers (as of May 2002 some 99
had been licensed)
compliance with carrier licence conditions and service
the Universal Service Obligation (USO) to "ensure
reasonable and equitable access across Australia to
standard telecommunication services" and Customer
Service Guarantee (CSG)
service performance and quality
the National Numbering Plan
administers legislation relating to carrier powers and
immunities of in the construction of telecommunications
legislative protection of consumers through safeguards
and service guarantees
and information programs on key issues affecting consumers
Australia through membership of the International Telecommunication
Union (ITU), the Asia-Pacific
Telecommunity and similar international agencies.
ACA seeks to manage access to and use of radiofrequency
spectrum (eg for mobile phones) through licensing, investigation
of interference complaints and action to ensure industry
compliance with mandatory standards and conditions. Spectrum
auctions are used in areas of high market demand and spectrum
As a standards setting and monitoring body the ACA is
responsible for standards "protecting the integrity
of communications networks and the interoperability of
the standard telephone service", including monitoring
compliance with technical standards for communications
equipment and cabling.
It is also concerned with number portability, electronic
addressing (including SMS), interconnection standards,
emergency call services and operator services such as
the ACCC and competition regulation
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC)
was established in 1995 through the merger of the Prices
Surveillance Authority and the Trade Practices Commission.
It administers the Trade Practices Act 1974 (here)
and the Prices Surveillance Act 1983 (here),
with additional responsibilities under other legislation.
As the national competition agency the ACCC is concerned
with administering telecommunications-specific competition
safeguards, in particular dealing with anti-competitive
conduct by major carriers such as Telstra and by and carriage
service providers through registration of access agreements,
approving access undertakings, declaring services for
access, approving access codes and arbitrating disputes
for declared services.
is able to issue tariff filing directions and record-keeping
rules. Its powers under the Telecommunications legislation
include control of Telstra's retail pricing. The ACCC
has been criticised, with some merit, as
slow to respond to anti-competitive activity by Telstra
(and indeed by some major competitors such as Optus)
resources to address consumer protection concerns in
the ISP sector
an understanding of domestic and international policy
issues and mechanisms relating to domain name services
the TIO and industry bodies
The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)
was established in 1993 as an industry funded scheme for
resolution of disputes between telecommunications providers
and residential and small business customers. It also
covers complaints regarding Internet Service Providers
From 1997, under the Telecommunications Act 1997,
all carriers and eligible carriage service providers are
required to be members of the TIO. They must comply with
its Constitution, Memorandum and Articles of Association
of the Scheme.
The TIO offers a free service to consumers. Its income
is derived from its members, who are charged fees for
complaint resolution services provided by the TIO.
Eligible carriage service providers (CSPs) are those that
public mobile telecommunications service and/or
standard telephone service where some of the customers
are residential or small business customers
carriage service which enables end users to access the
the co-regulatory regime the TIO has the authority to
make binding decisions. Its recommendations are legally
binding upon telecommunications providers. A Canadian
counterpart, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications
Service (CCTS), was established in 2007.
The Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF)
brings together telecommunications companies, users and
others. It is an telecommunications industry owned, resourced
and operated company established in 1997 to implement
and manage communication self-regulation within Australia.
ACIF's role is to
and administer technical and operating arrangements
that promote both the long term interests of end-users
and the efficiency and international competitiveness
of the Australian communications industry.
is complemented by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications
formed in 1994, which represents the "mobile phone
industry" - essentially service operators.
Telephone Information Services Standards Council (TISSC)
is an "independent regulatory body" that sets standards
for the message content and advertising of any Australian
telecommunication service with the 190 prefix. Service
providers of 190 numbers must abide by the TISSC Code
The Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG)
and Service Providers Industry Association (SPAN)
represent users - in particular large corporate consumers
of telecommunications - and telecommunication companies
respectively. The Australian Internet Industry Association
represents many internet service providers, content hosts
and other entities - such as Caslon Analytics - with an
interest in the service/hosting sectors. and others.
Equivalent bodies in New Zealand include the Telecommunications
Users Association of New Zealand (TUANZ).
(regulation and policy)