Australia: Changes to telephone numbering management and other red tape reform in the communications sector

On 29 March 2017, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2017 (Dereg Bill) was introduced in the Australian Parliament. The Dereg Bill contains a number of measures, across a range of communications related legislation, largely designed to contribute to the Government's 'red tape reduction' agenda.

The key provisions in the Dereg Bill will allow the telecommunications industry to develop a scheme for the management of telephone numbers, to replace the existing scheme managed by the communications sector regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Under Part 22 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) (Telco Act), as currently enacted, ACMA is responsible for making a 'numbering plan'. The current plan is the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015. This sets out the framework for the numbering of carriage services and the use of those numbers as well as rules for allocation, transfer, surrender, portability and the use of different numbering types. Communications Alliance, the communications industry body, has argued that numbering management should be undertaken by industry rather than ACMA on the basis that this should lead to faster and more efficient allocation and lower costs (noting that costs are met by industry via numbering charges). Allowing for industry management of numbering would also be consistent with the arrangements that apply to other electronic addressing.

The Dereg Bill allows for transition to an industry scheme for numbering management. This will only be permitted if the Minister for Communications is satisfied that the proposed scheme manager would administer that industry scheme in accordance with a number of key principles. Those principles will be set out in the Telco Act and are intended to ensure that numbering management promotes competition and achieves other key consumer and public interest objectives (such as supporting the Triple Zero service). In any event, the Minister, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and ACMA will be given specific intervention rights if necessary for the effective functioning of the industry scheme. In the case of the Minister, these rights include the ability to revoke the appointment of a numbering scheme manager in certain circumstances.

Other amendments to be made to telecommunications legislation, including the Telco Act, by the Bill include:

  • Limiting the ability of the ACCC to issue tariff filing directions to certain telecommunications companies under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) where this would be too burdensome.
  • Reforming the ACCC's and ACMA's statutory information collection powers.
  • Removing NBN Co's power to issue statements that it will not install fibre in a new real estate development.
  • Providing greater flexibility to NBN Co in respect of the disposal of surplus goods.
  • Removing the requirement for ACMA to consult with an advisory committee before declaring a submarine cable protection zone under the Telco Act.

Amendments that would be made to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) (BSA) by the Bill include:

  • Streamlining of administration arrangements for commercial broadcasters (and datacasting transmitter licensees) relating to account keeping and licence fees.
  • Removing duplicative requirements to report to ACMA in respect of certain changes in control of regulated media assets.
  • Providing a consistent classification arrangement for TV programs by removing requirements for certain television broadcasters to apply different classification standards for films when developing industry codes of practice.
  • Limiting duplication in ACMA's complaints handling and investigation functions.
  • Providing flexibility to ACMA to determine how to publish notices in respect of certain standards.

As the Bill is fairly non-controversial it is likely that it will be passed during the Australian Parliament's Winter sittings, commencing in May 2017, and therefore should take effect during the course of 2017.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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