ACA opts for new telecomms penalty process

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has introduced a new method of penalising telecommunications companies that breach the law, in a move designed to reduce the number of court cases.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has introduced a new method of penalising telecommunications companies that breach the law, in a move designed to reduce the number of court cases.

Following an amendment to an Act of Parliament passed last December, the ACA now has the ability to issue infringement notices for breaches of technical regulations mentioned in section 453 (penalties payable instead of prosecution) of the Telecommunications Act, instead of being forced to prosecute through the courts.

"This is just another string to our bow," John Vardanega, manager, Telecommunications Standards for the ACA, told ZDNet Australia  . "Our first option is always to negotiate a full solution to a problem without being a heavy-handed regulator."

Offences which come under the new penalty system include:

  • unauthorised labelling and connection of telecommunications customer equipment or customer cabling;
  • contravention of cabling provider rules; and
  • contravention of labelling notice requirements and conditions applying to connection permits for telecommunications equipment or cabling.

The new infringement notice system has benefits for both the ACA and the telecommunications companies in breach, according to Vardanega. The ACA has more options in dealing with breaches of the Telecommunications Act, and can avoid costs associated with litigation. For the company receiving the notice, it prevents a criminal record being created, and allows them to pay the penalty without going through the courts.

The amount payable under the penalty system is linked to penalty units under the Crimes Act 1914 and differs significantly from maximum penalties imposed through the court system. Under the infringement system, an individual supplying unlabelled customer equipment or customer labelling will receive an infringement notice of AU$1,320 for each offence, compared to a maximum penalty after prosecution of AU$13,200. The figures for a body corporate are AU$6,600 and AU$66,000 respectively.

"By the time we issue the notice we would expect that the person it's issued to would realise they've done the wrong thing," said Vardanega, explaining that there would be correspondence with the party in question before the notice was issued. "The first option is always to negotiate a solution which doesn't require a penalty notice or prosecution."

Penalty notices would be reserved for repeat offenders and serious infringements. "They'd have to do something pretty serious to get a penalty notice in the first case," said Vardanega. "In the main my view is that they do the right thing, occasionally mistakes happen. We don't want to see somebody hung out to dry for a mistake."

ACA acting chairman, Dr Bob Horton, said a similar penalty infringement notice system, introduced under the Radiocommunications Act 1992, had increased industry compliance with regulations and created a cost-effective alternative to prosecution.

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