Government abandons rewrite of RadComms Act

Will pursue piecemeal reform instead

Credit: ID 5873422 © Krishnacreations

The federal government has abandoned its efforts to engage in a wholesale rewrite of the Radiocommunications Act.

“Rather than completely re-writing the legislation, modernising Australia’s spectrum management framework will now be pursued through a staged approach to amending the Radiocommunications Act 1992,” said a message sent by the Department of Communications to stakeholders.

The initial phrase of amendments will deal with “a number of priority issues to deliver tangible benefits to industry and consumers,” with a focus on smoothing spectrum allocation and reallocation.

Those changes will include extending spectrum licence terms to a maximum of 20 years, with clearer renewal processes, aligning as much as possible arrangements for apparatus licences with spectrum licences, as well as improving technical regulation, streamlining device supply schemes and introducing graduated enforcement mechanisms for breaches of the act.

“To minimise disruption to spectrum users, existing licence types and planning arrangements will be retained at this time,” the department said.

A draft amendment bill is expected to be unveiled in early 2020.

In mid-2018, the then communications minister, Mitch Fifield, said that the government was in the “final stages” of its rewrite of the Radcomms Act.

“In today’s world, having a fit for purpose regulatory framework for the management of and access to spectrum is just as important as having a fit for purpose telco regulatory regime,” he told a July 2018 industry conference.

“We do need to ensure that Australia’s spectrum management framework is transparent, that it’s flexible that it’s able to realise the opportunities from advances like 5G.”

The federal government in May 2017 had launched a public consultation on a partial exposure draft of a new Radiocommunications Bill, building on the recommendations of the 2015 Spectrum Review.

Measures in the proposed bill included removing the minister from operational decisions, instead leaving them to set strategic priorities to guide the regulatory work of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), as well as simplifying the radcomms planning framework and shifting to a single licensing system.

“The existing licensing system consisting of class, apparatus and spectrum licences is rigid and overly prescriptive. Removing the current hard barriers that exist between licence types, and the rigid manner in which licenses are designed within the framework, will enable the licensing system to better respond to new technologies and service innovations,” a fact sheet issued by the department explained.

“Much of what will appear in the draft bill was the subject of consultation through the exposure draft of the Radiocommunications Bill that was released in May 2017,” the department said in its communique today. “Feedback on that bill has helped to shape the approach to amendments.”

A second phase of amendments to “further improve efficiency and flexibility” will be considered after the initial amendment bill is passed and following further consultation.

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