Fifield: New spectrum Bill in 2018

After releasing its partial draft Radiocommunications Bill in May following a consultation paper in March last year, Fifield has said the government is aiming to introduce its updated Bill to Parliament next year.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has revealed that the federal government is aiming to introduce an updated Radiocommunications Bill to Parliament in 2018 following the release of another exposure draft for industry comment.

"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," Fifield said during the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) RadComms 2017 conference in Sydney on Wednesday morning.

"The cornerstone of those reforms will be the new RadComms Bill, which I aim to introduce into Parliament next year."

According to Fifield, thanks to submissions following the release of a consultation paper in March last year and the subsequent draft legislation in May this year, the government has recognised that the existing framework is too slow, rigid, and complex, making continuing consultation with industry a necessity.

"The consultations have, it's fair to say, highlighted what we already knew, and that is just how complex this area is -- and due to the complexity of the existing legislation and the impact on industry, there will need to be ongoing feedback and consultations to inform the design of the new legislation," Fifield explained.

"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, and this will include provisions relating to broadcasting and also on transitional tax arrangements."

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO Chris Althaus welcomed the exposure draft being released in the near future, saying the ball has been in the government's court for some time.

The partial draft Bill was released in May alongside a consultation package on the proposed legislation, with the legislative changes to remove the "prescriptive process" for spectrum allocation in place of a more flexible framework; integrate and improve the consistency of public sector and broadcasting spectrum; and review the pricing of spectrum.

Under Section 4 of the previous Bill's exposure draft, the framework for regulating radiocommunications would be developed and administered by the ACMA, with the federal opposition Labor party at the time saying the ACMA must be "properly resourced to realise this significant undertaking".

Labor also pointed towards the lack of preparatory work in the 2017-18 federal Budget.

"Ultimately, the ACMA will be responsible for the important and monumental task of designing and developing new spectrum management arrangements," Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said in May.

"It is concerning that the regulator is expected to prepare for this change on the smell of an oily rag.

"The 2017-18 Budget makes no provision for preparatory work for spectrum review implementation by the ACMA to inform the draft Bill. Without proper funding, spectrum reform may suffer in terms of quality or speed."

According to the previous exposure draft, the key components of the framework are radiofrequency plans; licences and spectrum authorisations; certified operator requirements; interference management and complaint resolution; regulation of equipment; accreditation of persons; and delegation.

The economic value of Australia's spectrum is worth an estimated AU$177 billion over the next 15 years to the national economy as digitisation and the connection of increasing amounts of devices continues.

"We'd all like Australia to be placed as a world leader in spectrum management, so we do need to reform," Fifield said on Wednesday.

"I'm optimistic that spectrum laws will be updated by the current Parliament."

Previous ACMA spectrum reform coverage

Labor: ACMA must be resourced for spectrum reform

The Australian government's new spectrum reform consultation package has outlined the changes needed for the regulatory framework but without making provision under the recent Federal Budget, Labor has pointed out.

Fifield releases spectrum legislation overhaul consultation paper

The Australian government has published its consultation paper on the proposed new spectrum licensing, regulation, and pricing legislation.

ACMA announces 5G spectrum plan

The ACMA has revealed its suggested plans for 5G spectrum allocation, with the 3.6GHz band to likely go up for auction in Q2 2018 and the mmWave band in Q1 2019.

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