Government close to finishing rewrite of Radcomms Act: Fifield

Revamp of spectrum management to help Australia realise benefits from 5G, minister says

The government is in the “final stages” of rewriting the key legislation that governs the allocation and use of wireless spectrum in Australia, communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield said this morning.

The rewrite of the Radiocommunications Act is one of the key steps the government is taking to help Australia realise the benefits of 5G, Fifield this morning told the CommsDay Unwired Revolution conference in Sydney.

“At the time it was introduced in 1992 it was world-leading legislation,” Fifield said. The legislation introduced a market-based mechanism to allocate licences for the most-desirable parts of spectrum, the minister said.

The growth in demand for spectrum since the introduction of the legislation makes the rewriting of the legislation a pressing issue, the minister said.

“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 the 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 government in 2016 pledged an overhaul of the Radcomms Act and in July last year released a public consultation package and exposure draft of a new bill.

The new legislation sits alongside efforts to make spectrum available for carriers, engagement in the international standardisation processes, streamlining of arrangements for the deployment of telco infrastructure, and reviewing whether existing telco regulations are fit for purpose as part of the government’s push to create “the right playing field” for 5G to flourish in Australia.

The government is bringing unallocated spectrum in the 3.6GHz band to market “as quickly as possible,” Fifield said. 3.6GHz is one of the pioneer bands for 5G.

Earlier this month the minister revealed the spectrum allocation limits for the upcoming auction, which will be conducted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

The Department of Communications and the Arts and the ACMA are currently finalising details of auction, including its methodology, Fifield said.

“The auction is on schedule, which is no small task, and we expect it to commence later this year,” the minister said.

The government has committed to continue to its efforts to streamline arrangements to allow carriers to rapidly deploy infrastructure, he said. “5G requires new and different infrastructure to previous generations of mobile technology,” Fifield said. “One of our immediate challenges is to deal with regulations that could hamper this.”

Last year the government consulted on possible changes to telecommunications carrier powers and immunities – and of the 24 reforms canvassed in the consultation paper, the government has already implemented 10 and is working “on a range of further reforms,” Fifield said.

“These changes will help carriers to deploy more quickly, more efficiently,” the minister said. The govt is working to strike a “careful balance” between the interests of carriers and local communities, he added.

There will be further potential reforms to carrier powers and immunities, he said. “I’m optimistic that the industry does have the capacity to work with property owners to come to agreement on how to progress further reforms,” Fifield said.

The 3.6GHz auction is the next the immediate next step on Australia’s road to 5G, but the ACMA is also examining other spectrum bands that can support the next-generation wireless technology, Fifield said. Last year the ACMA revealed it was looking at accelerated release of spectrum in the 26GHz band for use in 5G services.

The minister said that the 5G working group the government established last year has provided a forum for a “good dialogue” across government portfolios, business and regulators, the minister said.

At the first meeting of the working group in February industry agreed to examine regulatory enablers barriers to use of 5g in transport, agriculture and health, he said

“This work will help inform both government and industry about the hurdles that we face in 5G applications in these sectors,” the minister said – for example how 5G-based self-driving vehicles will require changes to road rules and how the Internet of Things will affect agriculture.

A paper released earlier this year by the Department of Communications and the Arts’ Bureau of Communications Research forecast that 5G could “add an additional $1,300 to $2,000 in gross domestic product per person” after the first decade of the rollout of the new wireless standard. Fifield said the government believes that the estimate of the economic benefits of 5G is likely conservative, because it doesn’t take into account consumer and non-market benefits.

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