The Australian government has announced a set of proposed changes to widen the powers and immunities of telecommunications carriers to roll out, expand, and maintain fixed-line and mobile communications infrastructure.
"Telecommunications carriers have a range of powers and immunities to allow for the installation and maintenance of certain network facilities, such as pillars and antennas, quickly and cost effectively," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement on Friday.
"The changes seek to clarify the operation of some existing powers and immunities, allow for the deployment of new types of network infrastructure, make changes to some existing facility types, and streamline notification and objection rules."
Fifield pointed out that network technologies and demand for connectivity have both significantly changed since the immunities and powers were first legislated for in 1997, with the Department of Communications now undertaking public consultation on the proposed legislative changes suggested by telcos.
Such changes would allow for larger-sized and more types of infrastructure permitted to be built, as well as for less regulation over these facilities. The government said around AU$100 million in industry and government regulatory cost savings has been projected, along with AU$50 million in "economic and social productivity benefits".
According to the government's Possible amendments to telecommunications carrier powers and immunities Consultation paper June 2017, changes could be made to Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997 (LIFD), and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997.
Specifically, proposed amendments to the Telecommunications Act would see poles of up to 12 metres high and 500mm in diameter considered low-impact facilities, as requested by the National Broadband Network (NBN) company; telcos able to install portable temporary comms facilities such as cells on wheels (COWs) without local government planning approval; telcos allowed to install replacement towers within 20m of an original tower; and maximum tower height extensions increased from 5m to 10m in commercial, industrial, and rural areas without needing state and territory planning approvals.
The proposed changes to the Telecommunications Code of Practice involve clarifying legal requirements for JV arrangements; reducing objection periods; allowing telcos to refer any objections to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO); replacing references to the Australian Communications Authority with references to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA); and updating any references to environmental and energy law.
Lastly, the LIFD changes would redefine collocated facilities; increase the maximum size of radiocomms and satellite dishes from 1.8m to 2.4m in diameter; increase the maximum height allowed of antenna protrusions above the structure they are attached to from 3m to 5m; include shrouds for radiocomms facilities as ancillary facilities; allow omni-directional radiocomms antennas to be included in low-impact facilities in residential and commercial areas; allow tower height extensions of up to 5m in commercial areas; add radiocomms lens antennas of up to 4 cubic metres as a type of LIFD facility; add cabinets for tower equipment of up to 3m high and less than 2 square metres in size as a designated facility; increase the maximum size of solar panels in rural areas from 7.5 square metres to 12.5 square metres; and increase the maximum length of a trench that can be open to install a conduit or cable in residential areas from 100m to 200m.
The LIFD would also be changed by clarifying that low-impact facilities can be installed on local government heritage and urban conservation areas, as long as it is not on a heritage register; replacing the term "micro cell" with "radiocommunications facility"; defining facilities by the size of their components and allowing them to be installed on this basis; allowing equipment inside residential structures to be considered low impact; including the installation of cable and conduit on or under bridges as a low-impact facility; and changing the volume restrictions on collocated facilities in commercial areas from 25 to 50 percent.
Freestanding mobile towers will remain subject to state and territory planning requirements, Fifield added.
Submissions are due by July 21.
The government also announced reaching a new funding agreement with the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) on Friday after deciding in February to continue funding ACCAN.
Telcos reveal blackspot round two locations
The Department of Communications earlier this week also announced its blackspot round two locations following Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone releasing their rollout schedules for the program.
According to the government, 78 base stations will be built in Western Australia; 76 in Queensland; 39 in New South Wales; 32 in Victoria; 20 in South Australia, 15 in the Northern Territory; and six in Tasmania.
Under round two of the blackspots program, Optus will be building 114 new mobile sites, Telstra will build 148, and Vodafone will build just four. This is in addition to round one, under which Vodafone was allocated 70 towers while Telstra will construct 429 base stations and install 135 small cells.
While Telstra has an address checker, Vodafone and Optus have provided extensive lists of areas receiving blackspot coverage.
Vodafone's next set of blackspot towers are set to be completed this month in Steppes (Highland Lakes Rd) and Takone, Tasmania; Bodallin (Great Eastern Hwy), Western Australia; and Kumbia, Queensland.
This will be followed by Tabulam (Bruxner Hwy), Weethalle, Attunga, Westdale, Gooloogong, Billimari, Jemalong, Eugowra, Noonbinna, Ben Bullen (Castlereagh Hwy), and Cultowa, NSW; Boyneside, Queensland; and Verona Sands, Tasmania, to be completed in Q3 2017.
Hallsville, Warral, Oakdene, Sandy Hills (Bruxner Hwy), Fossickers Way, Koorawatha, Duri, Tabbita, Ungarie, Savernake, Lowesdale (Riverina Hwy), Oxley Vale, Piallamore, Moonbi, Barraba, Gunbar South (Mid Western Hwy), Gunbar (Mid Western Hwy), and Manilla, NSW; Dingo, Queensland; and Hamilton, Wayatinah (Lyell Hwy), Tarraleah, Swansea, Miena, and Goshen, Tasmania are set to be completed during Q4 2017.
Slated for the first half of 2018 are Piora, Culmaran Creek, Pilliga Forest (Newell Hwy), Doughboy Mountain, Manna Mountain, Mount Carrington, Mount Hourigan, Yellow Mountain, NSW; Glen Valley, Victoria; Lake Corella (Barkly Hwy) and Yelvertoft (Barkly Hwy), Queensland; and Brandum, Apslawn, Pyengana, and Yolla, Tasmania.
Optus has further detailed which technology it will be using for each blackspot, as well as when the locations will receive coverage.
By Q3 2017, Optus aims to cover Aurora Kakadu, Bark Hut Inn, Mary River Roadhouse, Cape Crawford, Kings Creek Station, Kings Canyon Resort, Gem Tree, and Florence Falls, Northern Territory, via satellite small cells.
By Q4, Yarrabandinni, Waldaira, Trungley Hall, Calga Airport, and Mt Douglas, NSW, will receive macrocells; Coward Springs, Parachilna Pub, Blinman, William Creek, Innamincka, Beltana Station, and Rawnsley Park Station, South Australia, will have satellite small cells; El Questro, Emma Gorge, Tjukayirla Roadhouse, Millstream Homestead, Bell Gorge, Mt Barnett RH, Karijini Eco Resort, and Karijini Campground, Western Australia, will have satellite small cells; Wangi Falls, Stuarts Well Roadhouse, Victoria River Roadhouse, and Devils Marbles Hotel, NT, will have satellite small cells; and Boodjamulla National Park, Takarakka Bush Camp, Carnarvon Wilderness Lodge, and Carnarvon Gorge Visitor Centre, Queensland, will receive satellite small cells.
In Q1 2018, The Homestead, Wisemans Ferry Rd, and Spencer, NSW will have macrocells; South Australia's Puntabie will get a macrocell and Maree and Stokes Bay satellite small cells; Gembrook North and Boorool, Victoria, will have macrocells; and Karijini Visitor Centre, Drysdale River Station, Ilkurlka Roadhouse, Home Valley Station, Kalumburu, Ellenbrae Station, Purnululu 2 - Wilderness Lodge, Purnululu 3 - Kurrajong, Purnululu Vistor Centre, Mindibunga, Alexander Bay (CG), Cape Le Grand (Lucky Bay CG), Tjuntjuntjara, Mt Augustus, and Kennedy Ranges National Park, Western Australia, will receive satellite small cells.
In Q2 2018, Temora West, Firefly, Brierfield, Napoleon Reef, South Cadia, Mount McDonald, Summer Hill Creek, North East of Nymboida, Dunoon, and St Albans, NSW, will receive macrocells; South Australia's Winninowie, Parawa, Mindarie, and Wynarka will have macrocells and Farm Beach a satellite small cell; Tasmania's Strathgordon will receive a satellite small cell and Buckland North a macrocell; Mt Dom Dom, Laharum, Yaapeet, Lexton, Waubra, Amphitheatre, Lake Meran, Baranduda Range, Lorne South, Bena, Redesdale, Myamyn, Nullawil, and Wandiligong, Victoria, will receive macrocells; Litchfield Ranger Station, NT, will have a macrocell; and West Hill, BA Avoca Station, BA Brucedale, BA Blue Lagoon, BA Mirrabooka, BA Nardoo, Yangan, Whyanbeel, Cape Tribulation, Redridge North, Avondale, Wide Bay Highway, Pawngilly, Windfield, Bunundarra, Boreen Point, Cootharaba Road, Kidaman Creek, Tinaroo, Doctors Creek North Road, Hampton, Maidenwell, and Maroondan, Queensland, will have macrocells.