ACMA issues discussion paper on expiring spectrum licences


Monday, 25 March, 2024

ACMA issues discussion paper on expiring spectrum licences

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has released a public discussion paper inviting stakeholders to provide feedback on the future use of Australia’s spectrum — the radio frequencies that facilitate telecommunications over public airwaves.

Many of the current 20-year spectrum licences issued to Australia’s major telcos are set to expire between 2028 and 2032. These expiring spectrum licences (ESLs) span a number of frequency bands and are used for a diverse range of applications, including mobile and fixed wireless broadband, rail safety and communications and electronic news gathering.

This is the first time the ACMA has been responsible for considering the future of these licences that, under law, may be renewed, partially renewed or refused to be renewed. With the potential release of this spectrum to other users, the expiry of these licences is arguably one of the most critically important issues facing the telecommunications sector over the coming decade.

To inform its future decisions, the ACMA’s paper seeks information from incumbents on their current and future use of this spectrum and from potential new users on alternative uses. In addition, it is seeking views on the use of licence conditions that may improve efficiency and coverage to the benefit of all Australians.

“With around three-quarters of long-term spectrum licences expiring, it is timely to consider whether there is potential to enhance competition and provide more choice for consumers,” said ACMA authority member and spectrum lead Adam Suckling.

“We are talking about very high value spectrum, ideal for facilitating 5G mobile internet and even 6G as we look ahead over the next decade and beyond.

“As the ACMA works through this process, we will be guided by the public interest objectives of the Radiocommunications Act and ministerial policy statements. We will look at things such as whether the use of spectrum is efficient, promotes investment, coverage, innovation and enhances competition.”

With these licences set to significantly shape the future of Australia’s telecommunications landscape, Suckling said it is important to include as many views in the decision-making process as possible. The discussion paper will be open for submissions until 15 May, with the ACMA planning to release its preliminary views on long-term options for the relevant spectrum in late 2024.

Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland has meanwhile opened consultation on a draft ministerial policy statement (MPS) that is specifically targeted to the spectrum currently used for mobile and fixed wireless broadband. Consultation on the MPS has been timed to occur in parallel with the ACMA’s information-gathering process, enabling stakeholders to take into consideration the policy objectives of the government when responding to the process. Further MPSs or ministerial directions powers may be considered leading up to the first expiry dates in 2028.

The draft MPS sets out five key communications policy objectives that the ACMA must have regard to in designing and enacting its process to manage the ESLs, including:

  • Supporting service continuity for consumers, particularly where no alternative service is available.
  • Facilitating opportunities for new entrants and use cases, including for low Earth orbit satellites.
  • Connectivity and investment in regional areas to deliver improved services to consumers.
  • Promoting competition.
  • Capacity for sustained investment and innovation.
     

Public consultation on the MPS will end on 12 April 2024. Interested parties can provide input by uploading their submission here or by emailing spectrum@infrastructure.gov.au.

Image credit: iStock.com/Jaiz Anuar

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