Turnbull announces spectrum review for Australia

Mobile industry supports review of 20-year-old RadComms Act

The Department of Communications has announced a review of Australia’s spectrum policy and management framework.

The government seeks to modernise the current framework, established in 1992 under the Radiocommunications (RadComms) Act, to reflect changes in technology, markets and consumer preferences, as well as increasing demand for spectrum from all sectors. The framework was last reviewed by the Productivity Commission in 2002.

“This was two years before Google went public and five years before the first iPhone was released,” Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.

“Clearly, the world has changed and it is time to take a comprehensive look at whether Australia’s spectrum policy and management framework remains fit for the digital age.”

The review will also aim to remove regulations that are no longer needed, in line with the government’s deregulation agenda.

“It is part of the government’s commitment to streamlining regulation and cutting red tape,” said Turnbull.

The mobile industry is pleased that the government has commenced a spectrum review, according to Chris Althaus, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

AMTA had pushed for a review in its submissions to the government on regulatory reform.

“The nature of spectrum is becoming ever more central to the way we live our lives courtesy of the huge take up of mobile broadband in particular,” Althaus told Computerworld Australia.

“The way we manage this resource, the way it’s planned and allocated, needs to be contemporary, needs to be up to date and reflect the prevailing conditions of the market.”

“This is a timely initiative and we look forward to participating in it.”

The Department of Communications will run the review but said it plans to work closely with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The Department of Communications will first seek feedback from stakeholders on an issues paper, with comments due by close of business on 20 June. Meetings, workshops and more calls for comment are planned throughout the year.

A final report to Minister of Communications Malcolm Turnbull is expected in six to nine months.

Althaus said the Department’s issues paper and terms of reference covers the key areas that the mobile industry believes are in need of reform. In particular, he praised the government’s call for a whole-of-government approach to spectrum policy.

When the government will formally update the spectrum policy framework depends on how the process runs, he said.

“One wouldn’t want to underestimate the complexity of the task here. There are a lot of people who use spectrum and a very wide range of applications and services supported by spectrum allocation. All of those views will be needed to take into account.”

“It’s any wonder that it’s going to take the rest of 2014, and in fact that is probably quite an ambitious time frame. But it’s certainly one that we support because we think there’s a point of urgency to get on with it here.”

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman voiced support for a review of the RadComms Act during a speech in October last year.

“In an industry that has undergone significant social, market and political change, as well as rapid technological change, we will have to become smarter and more nimble if we’re to continue our success into the future,” he said at the time.

“In order to keep pace with industry and innovation, we need to focus on refining and reforming our regulatory toolkit and make sure regulation does not become an impediment to Australia actually realising its full economic potential from spectrum use.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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