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Spectrum in Motion RadComms 2017 Conference Sydney

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 ourselves.

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 mobile devices.

And ten years later, the mobile-dependent world that we now take for granted today is built around radiofrequency spectrum.

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 consume media.

Similarly, since our spectrum laws were put in place, the mobile internet has completely reshaped how Australians consume data.

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 pursue reform.

Just to give an example, the 2015 auction of regional 1800 MHz spectrum required 10 separate legislative instruments.

There are also more than 60 different categories and sub-categories of apparatus licenses under existing laws.

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 market demand.

The existing arrangements are too slow, they're rigid, they're complex and that makes it difficult to keep pace with demand.

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 said:

“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 availablefor 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 year.

We released a proposal paper setting out our approaches for new legislation at last year's RadComms conference.

This was an important step in the reform process and provided industry and users with an avenue to tell us what they thought.

Drawing on feedback from this process, my Department working with ACMA produced an exposure draft of the new Bill.

In May this year an extensive consultation package was released for industry to consider.

It included:

  • an exposure draft of the Bill and accompanying information paper
  • approaches to broadcast spectrum and transitional arrangements and
  • papers on spectrum pricing and Commonwealth held spectrum.

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 finalising it.

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 consideration.

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 needs.

Which brings me to the final topic I'd like to touch on being 5G and why reform is required to make this a reality.

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 purpose.

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 future.

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.

Thank you.


Media contact:

Geraldine Mitchell | 0407 280 476 | Geraldine.mitchell [at] communications.gov.au