Issue No 11: 21 May 2019
ACOMMS 2019 Key Dates
* Early Bird Dinner Registrations Close: Friday 31 May
Telecommunications Reforms a Matter of Urgency
A new Parliamentary term creates fresh opportunity for Government and industry to urgently address a raft of necessary and/or overdue reform in the Australians telecommunications sector.
Things move fast in the telco and tech space. The regular emergence of new technologies, products, services and platforms, combined with constantly evolving security, privacy and other issues present major challenges for even the most agile legislative and regulatory frameworks.
There are major policy and regulatory planks in the sector – including consumer safeguards, online security, spectrum management and infrastructure rules – that are no longer fit-for-purpose or where promised reforms are yet to materialise.
There is also an obvious mess to repair in terms of national security legislation – with both major parties guilty, pre-election, of passing laws that they knew to be flawed, while promising to ‘fix it later’.
Successive Ministers have recognised the need to overhaul telco consumer safeguards, many of which date back to the Telecommunications Act 1997. The current framework has been overtaken by structural market changes and new technologies – some parts of it are simply unworkable. Governments have promised reform since 2014, but have not taken up industry’s offer to develop a set of principles from which to build a relevant, agile and future-proof protection framework.
Consultation papers on the topic began to emerge in mid-2018. The first, dealing with consumer redress and complaints handling, called for the dismantling and replacement of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). This was universally panned by industry, consumers and other stakeholders, and resiled from by Government in its response. The second paper, concerning reliability of services has not yet elicited a response from the Government. The third paper, dealing with choice and fairness has not been released.
We need a rapid ‘re-set’ of the Consumer Safeguards Review process – to establish principles and create a workable way forward.
Progress is also lagging in the promised changes to how Australia manages electromagnetic spectrum – the finite resource that is the lifeblood of our connected society. Malcolm Turnbull (then Minister for Communications) announced a review in May 2014. In 2017 an exposure draft of the legislation was released, with a final Bill promised for 2018. Nothing has eventuated as yet and, meanwhile, the need for reform has accelerated. New services, our voracious appetite for data and content and the increasing spectrum needs of services including terrestrial broadband, 5G, and next-generation satellites, have made spectrum management ever more complex and urgent.
Next is the need to revamp rules governing the deployment of mobile network infrastructure. There is no shortage of excitement about the revolutionary changes that 5G mobile technology and the Internet of Things will bring to Australian consumers and businesses. But the reality is that reaping the benefits of 5G is reliant on being able to densify mobile networks through the deployment of small cells. Essential reforms to deployment rules have been stalled for more than a year. Discussions with bureaucrats are ongoing and there is a shared desire for progress. If we don’t solve the deployment puzzle, however, we will be denied the national benefit of 5G services and see Australia’s global competitiveness in mobile services seriously dented.
Finally – how to clean up the problems in national security legislation?
George Brandis had his share of detractors when he was Attorney-General. To his credit, however, when Senator Brandis’s Department produced a poor first attempt at a national security Bill (as it did in the first draft of the data retention legislation in 2014), the A-G and his advisers worked with industry and the bureaucracy to beat the exposure document into something approaching workable. It took three exposure drafts and still the Data Retention legislation turned out to be problematic, generating some unintended consequences. Yet there had been, at least, an honest effort to get it right.
Contrast this with more recent legislative efforts in the national security space.
The Assistance and Access Act, (commonly referred to as the ‘Encryption Act’) was passed by both Houses of Parliament in lamentable circumstances on 6 December 2018 – courtesy of a promise to the Opposition to revisit vital amendments early in the next sitting period, provided the Bill was waved through that day in its flawed form. Of course, no amendments were voted on before the election was called.
Along the way the Government largely ignored an extraordinarily broad coalition of experts from industry, civil society, academia and consumer groups – from Australia and across the globe – who testified that this was dangerous legislation, fraught with the risk of unintended consequences, threats to cybersecurity and damaging to Australian industry.
The Criminal Code Amendment legislation (regarding abhorrent and violent content online), introduced and passed with unprecedented haste and zero consultation post-Christchurch, was acknowledged by both major Australian political parties to be flawed and in need of revision – even as it was being passed into law.
Committee reviews of all three pieces of legislation will kick off in the second half of this year. In the meantime, however, we need a better model for the creation and management of national security laws in Australia – based on shared endeavour with industry, civil society and more. The current construct, in which no major political party appears willing to temper the demands of agencies, for fear of being labelled ‘soft on terrorism’, is a poor governance model.
Telecommunications Customer Service Satisfaction Increasing
Satisfaction with customer service received by telecommunications customers has increased over the past year, according to survey results published today by Communications Alliance.
“After disruptions in the marketplace contributed to reduced levels of satisfaction in our customer satisfaction data throughout 2017 and the beginning of 2018, we are pleased to see an improving trend over the past three quarterly reports,” said John Stanton, CEO Communications Alliance.
The quarterly national survey, carried out for Communications Alliance by Roy Morgan Research, has recorded 83%-84% of customers responding that they are satisfied or neutral regarding the overall level customer service from their telecommunications provider in the last three reports (Waves 20, 21, and 22).
“These results align with the results of our quarterly Complaints in Context report, and we hope to see this trend continue,” continued Stanton.
“We are also pleased to see that the percentage of customers receiving an unexpectedly high bill remains low. This significantly decreased in July 2018, and this positive result is contributed to by a range of service improvements and innovations by providers, including unlimited data plans, fixed price roaming packages, and the option to enjoy unmetered data for specific services.”
However, the reports show mixed results on Complaints Handling, with customer responses to Roy Morgan changing each quarter. While the report showed improvements beginning in July 2018, in the most recent report only 60% of customers who had made a complaint in the last six months were satisfied or neutral about their complaint experience.
“We will keep an eye on this trend and continue working with Industry and the ACMA to ensure customer complaints are handled appropriately.”
Satellite Services Working Group submission to ACMA Five Year Spectrum Outlook 2019-23
The SSWG submission addresses a number of the items for discussion raised in the ACMA FYSO Consultation Paper.
Importantly, the submission argues for a more holistic, multi-band approach to spectrum planning instead of a ‘band-by-band’ approach in order to minimise future dislocations and inconvenience when the value and potential of other bands become available.
Satellite Services Working Group submission to the ACMA Replanning in the 28 GHz band Options Paper
The SSWG also made a submission to the ACMA Options Paper on Replanning in the 28 GHz band.
The submission argues that a more holistic approach – taking into account the 26, 28 and 37-43.5 GHz bands at the same time –leads to a compelling case for Option 4 put forward in the ACMA Options Paper – which is the exclusive use of 28 GHz for Fixed Satellite Service .
Note: Some of Communications Alliance members, including Telstra and Optus, do not agree with some aspects of this submission.