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Spectrum Reform - Radcomms Bill 2017

Lisa Brown
Manager, Policy - AMTA


AMTA and Communications Alliance made a joint submission in response to the Department of Communications and the Art’s consultation on the Exposure Draft of the Radiocommunications Bill 2017 (Radcomms Bill), as well the Department’s consultation papers on spectrum pricing and Government spectrum holdings, on 28 July.

The Radcomms Bill and associated reform package marks a pivotal step in the reform of Australia’s spectrum management framework.  AMTA strongly supports the Government’s approach of undertaking a comprehensive reform of the framework to enable the benefits of next generation technologies, including 5G, to be fully realised and for these benefits to be shared across the broader economy.

Radiofrequency spectrum is a finite and critical resource and the proposed reform package will simplify the legislative and regulatory framework that has been in place since 1992.  The draft Bill and proposed new regulatory framework adopts a non-prescriptive approach and simplifies the existing arrangements to provide an improved level of flexibility; that will foster continued investment in spectrum resources, enabling the many benefits of the next generation of technological products and services to be realised across the broader Australian economy.

AMTA and Communications Alliance put forward the following key positions in the joint submission:

  • Industry also notes the need for the Spectrum Review principles of simplicity, flexibility, transparency, certainty and efficiency to underpin the legislative and regulatory framework.
  • Industry supports the need for a single licensing framework to provide improved flexibility for the ACMA in terms of managing the licence system; balanced with the need for certainty to encourage continued investment by licence holders.
  • Industry members have questions around how Ministerial Policy Statements (MPS) will be used and have suggested that there is a mandatory stakeholder consultation process built into the Bill with regard to the drafting and issuing of MPS.
  • Questions also remain as to how Regulatory Undertakings will be implemented along with concern that they may result in unnecessary complexity as well as the potential to undermine the property rights of existing spectrum licence holders.
  • Industry acknowledges and supports the aim of providing greater flexibility to the ACMA, and the introduction of Licence Issue Schemes (LIS) is an example of providing the ACMA with the ability to evolve the licensing regime with technology and the requirements of industry.We support the concept of LIS and broadly support their introduction along the lines of the Bill, with a few concerns as outlined in the submission.
  • Industry has also noted that there is (and should be) a clear distinction between valuation of spectrum and price-setting mechanisms and processes. The valuation of spectrum is important in considering how spectrum should be allocated, for example, to mobile broadband or to some other use. However, setting the price for spectrum should generally be based on the principle of ‘opportunity cost’. Setting the price for spectrum should include both consideration of the value of spectrum, in terms of its social and economic benefits, as well as the opportunity cost in relation to any specific transaction. These principles can be applied as equally important factors to be considered in price-setting and/or decisions around the appropriate mechanisms for the allocation or sale of spectrum.
  • While spectrum price setting is a matter for regulatory guidelines, there should be full transparency, including consultation, around the processes for setting prices as well as the decision-making process involved in choosing the appropriate mechanism for allocations e.g. market-based allocations, such as auctions, administered pricing or other methods.
  • Industry believes that comprehensive reform of the spectrum management framework must include broadcasting spectrum and the Associations are very disappointed to see the exclusion of broadcasting spectrum from the new Bill.The exclusion of broadcasters means they will continue to gain access to spectrum via licences under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) and under a separate spectrum pricing regime.We see no reason for the exclusion of broadcast spectrum from the draft Bill, and request the Government stand by its 2015 commitment to implement the recommendations of the Spectrum Review.
  • While it sits outside the legislation, the issue of stamp duty in relation to spectrum transactions is important and we have outlined our concerns that some State/Territory jurisdictions continue to impose stamp duty on these transactions.

The Department has indicated that a revised Radcomms Bill will be tabled in Parliament in early 2018. The Department is also planning a second round of consultation at the end of December 2017 which will include consultation the Transitional and Consequential Amendments Bill (T&C Bill) and the Radiocommunications Licence Tax Bill. The revised Radcomms Bill is also expected to include broadcasting spectrum. AMTA looks forward to continued close engagement with both the Department and ACMA on the spectrum reforms into 2018; acknowledging the complexity of the task and the considerable work involved in drafting the legislation and subordinate instruments.

17 August 2017

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