Spectrum in Motion
RadComms 2017 Conference
1 November 2017, 9am
E & OE
Well thanks very much James
(Cameron, Acting Deputy Chair). It was a little unsettling when you said people
in this room could download the RadComms Act. As we all know there’s absolutely
no need for anyone in this room to do that because you all actually have the
RadComms Act on your bedside tables. But we’ll just keep that between
I always look at my diary before
the RadComms and think to myself, RadComms it really does sound like some sort
of secret extreme left-wing gathering. But you all look pretty straight to me.
Can I also acknowledge the new
chair of ACMA, Nerida. Congratulations on your appointment to this important
role. I’m sure that everyone is looking forward to hearing your first ex cathedra
remarks from the position of chair of ACMA a little later this morning.
And could I also take the
opportunity to thank and to acknowledge Richard Bean for his service as the
Acting Chair of ACMA and as Deputy Chair of ACMA for the leadership he provided
and for his service to the nation. So thank you Richard.
Ladies and gentlemen you all have
a challenge today, particularly those of you who’ll be presenting and that is
to make spectrum exciting. Nerida has promised me that she’ll achieve that a
little later, I make no such claims, but the first RadComms conference back in
2006 there was an attempt.
That conference had the catchy
title of “Reaching for New Spectrum Horizons” - I don’t think in all
seriousness back then any of us could have imagined just how rapidly spectrum
management would become such a top-tier issue for industry and for government.
The ACMA itself at that time was
just one year old, following the merger of the Australian Broadcasting
Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA).
Back in 2006, the 2G Motorola
RAZR was apparently one of the coolest mobile phones you could carry.
Tech website CNet declared that
the “Phone most likely to be the next big thing” was the Telstra Hiptop 2 – do
you remember that one? No, I don’t either.
Anyway, 3G networks were still in
their early days and operators were still trying to figure out exactly what
they could be used for.
And then of course, the arrival
of the iPhone the following year which heralded a new generation of data-hungry
And ten years later, the
mobile-dependent world that we now take for granted today is built around
And so this morning I’d like to
touch briefly on three things.
First, the current spectrum
management framework in Australia and
why it needs reform.
Second, I’ll provide an update on
how the reform process is progressing, and the role of Government there.
And finally, I’ll talk a little
bit about the next big things on the horizon for spectrum - and why reform is
needed to make that a reality.
So first looking at our existing spectrum framework
which has been in place now for more than a quarter of a century in the form of
the Radiocommunications Act 1992.
At the time that it was introduced, this was
forward-looking legislation. It led the world by introducing a market-based
mechanism that allowed the most coveted parts of the spectrum to be allocated
to their highest-value use.
But back then no one could really have predicted
just how rapidly our appetite for mobile technology, and therefore spectrum,
would develop over the next two decades.
When those laws were introduced, I was working as
an adviser to a state government Minister and I had the sought after job of
carrying the Minister’s mobile phone.
Which had a terrific shoulder strap, it was a big
beast about that size, and an aerial about that big and I looked pretty good,
I’ve got to say. But times have changed.
Now, there are some nice analogies between our
spectrum laws and our media laws, which were also set in 1992.
When the Broadcasting Services Act came into effect
in ‘92, the airwaves were dominated by TV and radio broadcasters.
In the quarter-century since those media laws were
put in place, the internet has completely reshaped the way that Australians
Similarly, since our spectrum laws were put in
place, the mobile internet has completely reshaped how Australians consume
And I’m happy to say that the media laws of 1992
have now been updated to reflect the world that we live in.
And I’m optimistic that updated spectrum laws will
also be passed by the current Parliament.
In the same
month that the Media Reform Bill was introduced into Parliament, I launched a
consultation paper on proposed amendments to the RadComms Act.
When it was introduced, the ’92
Act obviously put in place market-based mechanisms, it also created an
independent regulator for spectrum management for the first time.
The legislation to support the
new regulatory body involved significant ministerial input, primarily in
administrative and allocation matters.
Now this approach was
cutting-edge 25 years ago, and it enabled Australia to be at the forefront of
spectrum regulation worldwide.
But as with all legislation it is
a product of its time, and Australia is at risk of falling behind if we don’t
Just to give an example, the 2015
auction of regional 1800 MHz spectrum required 10 separate legislative
There are also more than 60
different categories and sub-categories of apparatus licenses under existing
Existing legislation includes no
fewer than 11 imprisonment sanctions, but to the best of my knowledge there
isn’t a cell block at Long Bay overflowing with heavily-tattooed amateur radio
operators. (laughs) But I might be proved wrong.
I think we’d all like Australia
to be placed as a world-leader in spectrum management, so we do need to reform.
Which brings me to my second point which is the Government is doing a bit to
keep our spectrum framework relevant in 2017 and beyond.
The Centre for International
Economics estimates the value of spectrum to Australia will be close to $177
billion over the next 15 years.
Consumers and industry are
adopting technology faster and earlier than ever before, and the existing
framework is struggling to keep up.
As spectrum becomes more congested,
users need an efficient and responsive management framework to respond to
The existing arrangements are too
slow, they’re rigid, they’re complex and that makes it difficult to keep pace
The level of ministerial
oversight which was considered prudent in 1992 looks a little more like red
tape in 2017.
The former Chairman of the US
Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler I think got it right when he
“Slavishly sticking to analogue
concepts of spectrum allocation can become, in the digital age, a
government-imposed chokepoint that burdens competition and innovation by
creating unnecessary and artificial scarcity of this essential resource.”
Now since coming to office we’ve
been working to overhaul these arrangements.
The findings of the 2015 spectrum
review identified the limitations of the current framework and suggested
changes to improve it.
High on that list was the need to
remove restrictive barriers that reduce opportunities for innovation.
The current licensing
arrangements, for example, restrict the regulator from readily adapting to
technological and market demands.
Removing these licensing barriers
would enable users to more easily share, to trade to lease spectrum in response
to the market. And would allow industry to operate without the need for
excessive government and regulatory oversight.
Markets are evolving to satisfy
the growing desire for “need it now” anywhere, anytime, availability – as well
as the convenience of accessing multiple services with one platform or device.
At the same time, we need to make
sure that spectrum is available for new uses that we haven’t yet thought of.
One of the key objectives for
Government is to facilitate a shift to a spectrum management framework that
enables rather than prescribes.
To be a framework that provides
the regulator and industry with more discretion in the marketplace, and which
sees the Government’s role shift to oversight rather than interference.
We are aware that change can be
difficult and that it does make some parts of the sector nervous.
We are committed to working
closely with industry and stakeholders to make this transition.
The Department and ACMA have made
good progress with industry to modernise the spectrum management system.
The cornerstone of those reforms
will be the new RadComms Bill, which I aim to introduce into Parliament next
We released a proposal paper
setting out our approaches for new legislation at last year’s RadComms
This was an important step in the
reform process and provided industry and users with an avenue to tell us what
Drawing on feedback from this
process, my Department working with ACMA produced an exposure draft of the new
In May this year an extensive
consultation package was released for industry to consider.
an exposure draft of the Bill and accompanying
approaches to broadcast spectrum and transitional
papers on spectrum pricing and Commonwealth held
The ACMA also provided
stakeholders with supporting material outlining how it envisages key aspects of
the Bill may operate.
The consultations have
highlighted what we already knew – and that is just how complex this area is.
Due to the complexity of the
existing legislation and the impact on industry, there will need to be ongoing
feedback and consultation to inform the design of the new legislation.
I’m pleased that stakeholders are
generally supportive of the new legislation and aware of the issues involved in
I note that there are workshops
on the agenda today workshops to help ACMA design some of the key
implementation matters such as the single licensing system.
We do need to reach a balance
between the pace of process and ensuring that the new system is fit for purpose
and that’s why we intend to release another exposure draft for industry
This will include provisions
relating to broadcasting and Bills on transitional and tax arrangements.
As this new legislation will give
the ACMA a greater role in spectrum management, I’d like to commend ACMA for
the important work that it already does in this area.
The ACMA has also just released
as you’d know its 5-year spectrum outlook. This document outlines spectrum
management issues likely to arise and provides a new forward work program to
bring spectrum to market – including for 5G networks.
The other significant body or
work under way which I should just mention is in response to the ACMA review.
The outcome of the review was released in May, it included changes to the
objectives, function, structure, governance and resource base of ACMA and I
ACMA is already hard at work putting those recommendations into place. And
these reforms will also be important to better place ACMA to meet industry
Which brings me to the final
topic I’d like to touch on being 5G and why reform is required to make this a
The new RadComms framework will
enable the regulator to readily respond to technological developments like 5G
and make necessary planning decisions without overly prescriptive controls.
Unlike the iterative
technological changes from 2G to 3G to 4G, the shift to 5G will be dramatic.
We recognise the importance of
ensuring Australia is well positioned to harness those opportunities.
Over the past 25 years, looking
back our mobile networks in Australia have developed commercially, organically,
we’ve got coverage to about 99% of the population and has been built almost
entirely on private sector investment.
Australia is the top performer
out of 134 countries on the GSM Association’s global mobile productivity index.
Given this success, there is no
need for Government to take an interventionist role in promoting 5G.
In a 5G discussions paper I
released a few weeks ago, we outlined the actions we’ll take to allow industry
to do what it needs to do.
First, we want to make sure that
spectrum is available in a timely manner.
Second, we’re engaging in the
international standards process to make sure Australia acts in accord with
what's being done around the world.
And thirdly, we’re pursuing
streamlined arrangements to allow carriers to deploy infrastructure faster and
at less cost, through a consultation process on potential changes to ‘carrier
powers and immunities'.
And fourthly, we're continuing to
review and streamline regulatory arrangements to ensure that they're fit for
And finally on 5G, the government
has announced the establishment of a working group which will provide a forum
for an ongoing dialogue between different government portfolios, telcos,
regulators, businesses to foster the right environment for 5G to flourish. And
to make sure that across portfolios agencies and departments are thinking of
the decisions that they might need to take to ensure there aren’t impediments
to their employment and benefits that will flow from 5G.
In closing, it’s good to see
everyone here this morning.
Outside conferences like this,
the typical Australian is unlikely to be aware of just how critical spectrum is
to how they live their lives.
Spectrum is a major contributor
our economic and social well-being – and it will become even more so in the
25 years ago we did lead in
spectrum management and I think the efforts which we have in train will place
us in that position again.
We do need to harness the
productivity opportunities which will be made possible by the best employment
of spectrum and the best management of spectrum.
The new Radcomms Bill is part of
our effort to make sure this occurs, I look forward to releasing an updated
exposure draft in the near future.
And can I thank you all
collectively for your efforts in contributing to our productivity and our
wellbeing as a nation and look forward to continuing to work with you.