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The Federal Government (Department of Communications) is conducting a review of the communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Many changes have occurred in communications in the last 10 years, and this pace is set to continue. The review is focused on the objectives, functions, structure, governance and resourcing needed for a future communications regulator to remain relevant and fit for purpose.

Infrastructure Australia is tasked with producing a 15 year national Infrastructure Plan. In order to produce this they first set out to conduct an audit report. The Audit identified the key challenges which need to be addressed in the plan. Telecommunications infrastructure was one element examined by the audit.

The first communities which switched to the NBN fixed network experienced a number of issues. One issue was that some consumers were disconnected from their existing network while waiting for an NBN service to be activated, leaving them without services. To resolve this, and prevent its recurrence in the next planned switch over areas, additional time before disconnection of existing connections has been proposed. The ACCC also asked whether the additional time should be applied more generally to other areas or for known 'hard to reach' premises with complications, such as those with alarms.

The Regional Telecommunications Review is the only review that examines horizontal, or geographic, equity in telecommunications services and so is of value to consumers.

The timing of the 2015 review creates its own challenges, as two large infrastructure projects, namely the Mobile Black Spots Programme and the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN), are still in motion. It is difficult to predict what gaps will still exist going forward. In our submission ACCAN has tried to outline issues that it sees are persistent. Furthermore we have made suggestions on how these might be addressed.

The International Mobile Roaming Standard requires mobile service providers to warn consumers about usage costs and limits when they use their mobile phones overseas. Since the introduction of the Standard consumer complaints have dramatically reduced. However, industry has proposed to remove key aspects of the Standard.

What is the IPND?

The Integrated Public Number Database (IPND) is a database that contains records of all Australian telephone numbers and associated customer details. It is managed by Telstra under the Carrier Licence Conditions, and is an important source of information for emergency and law enforcement purposes.

.au Domain Administration (auDA) invited comment on a public issues paper about the way .au domain names are allocated and used. The paper has been prepared by a Names Policy Panel consisting of nominated members of the Australian Internet community who have expressed interest in helping shape policy for the .au domain space.

nbn™ has been tasked with providing broadband to all premises at affordable prices, regardless of the cost to provide these services. This will result in a number of services that will be loss making or non-commercial (i.e. fixed wireless and satellite services). The current arrangement is for nbn™ to fund these services through higher costs for services over other parts of its network. However, the Government wishes for the funding to be transparent and for all network providers to contribute to these services, not just nbn™.

The Bureau of Communications Research (BCR) recently consulted on potential alternative funding arrangements for these non-commercial services. They posed a number of questions about how these services could be funded, to which ACCAN provided feedback. Our submission focused on four areas:

    • concern over the affordability of services;

    • equity of services between consumers in fixed wireless and satellite areas and those in the fixed footprint;

    • concern that the BCR was not focusing on consumers use of broadband; and

    • queried how commercial services offered over the fixed wireless and satellite network will be treated. 

Calling Number Display (CND) allows the people you call to see your telephone number displayed on the screen of their telephone. It applies to both mobile phones and landlines. If you don't have a silent line, unlisted number or have not blocked CND, the people you call will generally be able to see your number on their telephone screen.

The CND feature has important privacy implications because there may be times when consumers don't want their number identified to the person they are calling. Recently, the Calling Number Display Code was reviewed by the Communications Alliance. A number of changes were proposed, including downgrading the Code to a Guideline, which would not be enforceable by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 allows copyright holders to apply to court to have piracy websites blocked by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The power can even be used to block websites which 'facilitate' infringement. Many Australian consumers use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) to by-pass geo-blocking restrictions and buy content from overseas. Copyright holders believe this practice breaches their rights under the Copyright Act and may use this new blocking power against VPN websites.

ACCAN believes consumers should have the freedom to choose where they purchase content. Improved choice will also address some of the problems around access, delayed release dates and affordability which fuel piracy.

With the change in the NBN policy (the move to the multi technology mix model), a number of arrangements previously approved by the ACCC have to be revised. One of these is ACCC's approval of NBN Co buying Optus' HFC (cable) network. The previous approval was for decommissioning of the Optus HFC network infrastructure after the roll out. With the change to a multi technology mix model, NBN Co has now applied to use the Optus HFC infrastructure in its roll out. ACCAN raised concerns that this may not be in consumers' best interest, as greater benefit may arise from the Optus HFC network competing against NBN Co at the wholesale level. However, without access to the detailed figures, it is not clear how much consumers or the NBN Co model would be impacted by not having the Optus HFC.

The draft Copyright Notice Scheme Industry Code of Practice aims to drive down the rate of online piracy through a cooperative response involving Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Copyright Holders. ACCAN was one of the stakeholders involved in developing the scheme with the goal of driving down online piracy while at the same time providing appropriate safeguards for consumers. Our submission addresses how well the scheme achieves these safeguards and proposes solutions for the remaining shortfalls.

Copyright deserves strong protection in order to foster a vibrant market for content. However, ACCAN advises caution in pursuing a Code which may have limited benefit in protecting copyrighted material while adding significant cost for telecommunications consumers. The Code attempts to drive down the incidence of online piracy without paying adequate regard to the core drivers of infringement – a lack of affordable and easy to access content.