Government reveals 11 proposals for spectrum review

Includes single licensing framework for spectrum and market-based pricing

The government has formally proposed a single licensing framework for spectrum in a directions paper released today.

The Spectrum Review Potential Reform Directions paper, released today by the Department of Communications, sets out 11 reform proposals:

  1. Implement a clear and simplified framework of policy accountability, including a requirement whereby the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) would have to notify the Minister of certain decisions and provide annual reports.
  2. Establish a single licensing framework, consolidating the existing three licence categories of apparatus, class and spectrum.
  3. More flexible allocation and reallocation processes. This includes allowing the ACMA to reallocate spectrum without a Ministerial determination.
  4. Establish transparent, market-based pricing for spectrum, with the ability for the Minister to issue exemptions.
  5. Give the ACMA ability to determine payment structures and timing of licence fee payments.
  6. Require the ACMA to take an open data approach to improve range, availability and quality of information.
  7. Provide a right to compensation for resuming all or part of a licence.
  8. Facilitate greater user involvement in spectrum management, including a provision allowing the ACMA to delegate spectrum management functions to other entitites.
  9. Develop more principles-based device supply regulation.
  10. Give more enforcement powers to the ACMA. This includes substituting civil penalties for existing criminal offences where appropriate, and enabling the ACMA to impose civil penalties, issue remedial directions and formal warnings to manage and control interference or breach of licence conditions.
  11. Require the ACMA to continually review options for allocating spectrum to alternative or higher-value uses.

The department asked stakeholder to submit comments on the proposals, including implementation issues and timeframes, by 2 December. The review is expected to report back early next year, with implementation likely to occur later in 2015.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed the single licencing framework and some other proposals at September’s RadComms conference. At the time, telecom industry associations had supported the proposals, though community TV broadcasters have baulked at a proposal to take their spectrum away at the end of 2015.

The goal of the spectrum review is to make more efficient use of spectrum to drive economic benefits to Australia.

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.

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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