Mobile tower Bill rejected

Mobile tower Bill rejected

Summary: A Bill designed to force telecommunications companies to consult more widely with communities about the erection of mobile phone towers has been rejected by a federal parliamentary committee.

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A Bill designed to force telecommunications companies to consult more widely with communities about the erection of mobile phone towers has been rejected by a federal parliamentary committee.

The House infrastructure and communications committee said the Bill, proposed by Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, could delay ongoing maintenance and significantly raise industry costs.

Its report published yesterday also says that while people were frustrated by a lack of consultation on tower installations, the Bill in its current form would not be effective.

"Unfortunately, though, the Bill, as it stands, will not do what it promises," committee chair and Labor MP Nick Champion said in a statement.

"It is also likely to have serious unintended consequences.

"The committee recommends that the Bill not be passed."

Wilkie introduced the Bill proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act last September.

The committee said it understood there were concerns about the towers, which some consider unsightly and intrusive, and that people needed to be consulted more.

But there was confusion about how the amendments would apply.

The committee found the increased notification requirements would not apply to free-standing towers, but would apply to thousands of routine upgrading and maintenance activities conducted by carriers each year.

The committee heard this would potentially delay ongoing, largely routine, activities, and cause significant increases in industry costs.

In its submission to the committee, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association produced a report from consultant Deloitte Access Economics.

Deloitte estimated that if the Bill went through, the industry impact would be an extra $2.2 billion a year.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday passed amendments from the Senate to another piece of telco legislation, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011.

Until now, Telstra has maintained a Universal Service Obligation, which makes sure that telephone services are reasonably accessible to all Australians over its copper network. However, Telstra's copper network will be decommissioned as the National Broadband Network rolls out.

"The legislation responds to this structural reform of the industry by moving from a regulatory model for delivery of universal service, with obligations imposed directly on Telstra and other service providers, to a more accountable and flexible contractual model," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said.

Part of the legislation entails the establishment of a new agency, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA). From 1 July 2012 it will be responsible for managing contracts to make sure that Australians have reasonable access to telephone services. Its efforts will be financed by an industry levy and the government will contribute base funding of $50 million a year for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, and $100 million each year thereafter. The majority of the initial agreements will be with Telstra.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Legal, Mobility, Telcos

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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