On 1 July 1997, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) was formed by the merger of the Australian Telecommunications Authority and the Spectrum Management Agency. The ACA, along with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is responsible for administering the telecommunications industry and the radiocommunications community under legislation passed in March 1997. This allows Australia to take advantage of the social and economic opportunities presented by technological developments in the communication services industry as well as providing an environment of competition in the telecommunication services industry, reinforcing consumer protection arrangements and reforming technical regulation in the communication services industry.
Role of the Australian Communications Authority
The ACA is responsible for regulating telecommunications and radiocommunications, including promoting industry self-regulation and managing the radiofrequency spectrum. The ACA also has significant consumer protection responsibilities. The ACA was established under the Australian Communications Authority Act 1997, and exercises powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Radiocommunications Act 1992, and other related legislation.
The ACA licenses telecommunications carriers, ensures compliance with carrier licence conditions and service provider rules, and monitors service performance and quality. The ACA also administers legislative provisions relating to powers and immunities of carriers in the construction of telecommunications facilities, and protection of consumers through safeguards and service guarantees. The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is administered by the ACA to ensure reasonable and equitable access across Australia to standard telecommunication services. Under the USO, Telstra is obliged to ensure that standard telephone services and pay phones are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they reside or carry on business. The ACA also manages the National Numbering Plan and information programs on key issues affecting consumers.
Industry self-regulation is encouraged through the development of voluntary industry codes of practice and technical standards, and the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) was established by the communication services industry to support this process. The aim of self-regulation is to encourage industry to respond to customer needs without first having to overcome excessive regulatory restrictions. When a code fails or proves inadequate, the ACA is empowered to intervene and enforce a code or develop a mandatory standard. In this environment of industry self-regulation, the Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) and the Universal Service Obligation (USO) provide for consumer protection. Under the CSG, telephone subscribers are legally entitled to claim compensation from carriage service providers (CSPs) who fail to: keep appointments; provide service connections; repair faults; and provide certain other services, within set timeframes.
Access to the radiofrequency spectrum is facilitated by the ACA through licensing, managing interference and ensuring industry compliance with mandatory standards and conditions. Spectrum auctions are used in areas of spectrum scarcity and high market demand as a means of allocating spectrum fairly and efficiently. The ACA also advises on the use of telecommunications and the radiofrequency spectrum and investigates interference complaints.
The ACA monitors compliance with technical standards for communications equipment and cabling, including the new standard for electromagnetic radiation, and for electromagnetic compatibility of electrical and electronic equipment. The ACA is also responsible for standards protecting the integrity of communications networks and the interoperability of the standard telephone service.
The ACA represents Australia's communications interests internationally through its membership of the International Telecommunication Union, the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity and other appropriate bodies.
Role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in telecommunications
The ACCC was formed in November 1995 by the merger of the Trade Practices Commission and the Prices Surveillance Authority. It administers the Trade Practices Act 1974 and the Prices Surveillance Act 1983 and has additional responsibilities under other legislation. The ACCC's telecommunications group has prime responsibility for administering the Commission's functions for competition and economic regulation of telecommunications which include:
- administering telecommunications-specific competitive safeguards, which enables the Commission to deal with anti-competitive conduct by carriers and carriage service providers as well as allowing it to issue tariff filing directions and record-keeping rules to assist with its telecommunications powers and functions;
- administering the telecommunications-specific regime for facilitating access to the networks of carriers. This includes declaring services for access, approving access codes, approving access undertakings, arbitrating disputes for declared services and registering access agreements; and
- administering other legislative provisions in the Telecommunications Act and other related legislation, including in relation to price control of Telstra's retail services, international conduct rules, number portability, electronic addressing, interconnection standards and arbitration of disputes about access to network information, access to facilities, operator services, directory assistance services, provision of number portability, preselection, emergency call services and carriage services for use by the Defence forces.