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Australian government proposes spectrum sharing and trading

The Australian government has proposed a massive overhaul of spectrum legislation, with an eye to allow telcos to share and trade spectrum amongst themselves.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian Government is proposing a radical overhaul of spectrum legislation in Australia, that will see a move away from government control over spectrum acquisition to a market-based mechanism to allow telcos to trade and share spectrum for mobile services.

In a report (PDF) prepared by the Department of Communications and released by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday, the agency found that over a 15-year period, spectrum could be worth as much as AU$177 billion in national benefits.

Spectrum management in Australia is currently governed by the Radio Communications Act, which is now 23 years old. The department said that feedback received from the industry was that licensing of spectrum is too complex, and allocation and reallocation of spectrum takes too long and lacks transparency.

It comes at a time when the proliferation of mobile devices for consumers, businesses, and the rise of machine-to-machine connectivity means demand for spectrum is higher than ever.

The department has recommended the Radio Communications Act should be replaced with a new "streamlined" Act to give industry and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) greater flexibility over spectrum management.

In the new Act, there would be a single licensing system instead of the three systems today. The system would cover the frequency of the spectrum, geographic location, duration, the terms of the licence, and the value of the spectrum.

The minister would be able to issue a policy direction around spectrum renewal, and the sharing of spectrum licences between companies.

The report also recommended that public sector and broadcast sectors also be allowed to lease, share or sell spectrum, and has called for a review of spectrum pricing to ensure they are consistent and transparent, and make the most use of the limited spectrum available.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) broadly welcomed the report, particularly the proposal to replace the existing legislation, and the move towards a single framework.

"Given the dynamics of modern spectrum markets in an increasingly contestable environment it makes sense to strive for a consistent policy approach that not only recognises the competing needs for spectrum, but also allows for wider use of market forces amongst all users," AMTA said in a statement.

Turnbull said the Cabinet would consider the report and would formulate a response. The government is accepting submissions on the proposals.

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