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Chair's foreword

ACMA Chair photo
I am pleased to present the 2018–19 annual report of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The products and services delivered by the communications and media sector are increasingly central to the social and economic lives of all Australians. Australians are downloading more data across mobile and fixed-line networks than ever before. From 2014 to 2018, the volume of data downloaded has almost tripled over fixed line networks and increased five-fold across mobile networks.

To support this data load, Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) continues to roll out, with more than 5.5 million premises activated and 85 per cent of construction completed at the end of
2018–19. This is complemented by significant ongoing infrastructure deployments by telecommunications companies in an increasingly challenging investment environment.

In the media sector, traditional media markets continue to be challenged by the increasing shift to online content delivery, disrupting revenue streams for print media and commercial broadcasters. Governments across the world are also turning their attention to regulating content delivered on digital platforms. These platforms are largely unregulated in comparison with the highly regulated (and highly compliant) ‘traditional’ media sector.

In this dynamic environment, the ACMA continued to deliver on the priorities and strategies identified in its corporate plan in 2018–19.

This year we had a strong regulatory focus on improving the experience of telecommunications consumers. In July 2018, we introduced new rules to address consumer concerns about moving to phone and internet services delivered by retail service providers over the NBN. We actively enforced these new rules with 50 investigations into industry compliance. We’ve also taken a stronger approach to enforcement of telecommunications consumer safeguards, with seven remedial directions (up from zero last year) and eight infringement notices (up from zero last year).

In December 2018, we announced our Scam Technology Project to explore practical solutions to disrupt scam activity across telecommunications networks. Our research found that more than half of Australian adults receive scam calls daily or weekly. The project is also leveraging industry and government expertise and experience in order to combat this growing problem.

We made new gambling advertising rules for online content providers—representing the first time that online services streaming live sports have been required to comply with gambling advertising standards. These rules now provide a safe zone for children and families watching live sport across a variety of platforms.

From November to December 2018, we conducted an auction of 3.6 GHz spectrum, releasing valuable spectrum that will facilitate the early delivery of 5G services in Australia. We also continued to manage the risk of interference and other harms to the legitimate use of spectrum, responding to 589 complaints, leading to 194 warning notices.

Our draft Five-year spectrum outlook 2019–23, published in April 2019, considers options for new uses of spectrum for wireless broadband, further major allocations for 5G spectrum and explores opportunities for spectrum sharing, class licences and the amateur radio sector.

In March 2019, we undertook an investigation into the coverage by Australian television broadcasters of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand. Unlike online streaming services, well-established broadcasting industry codes of practice require the editing of certain types of content before it goes to air. Our report showed that there were high levels of responsibility shown by broadcasters in handling difficult and distressing material.

The role of digital platforms and potential regulatory responses to them was front and centre in 2018–19, with a major inquiry being undertaken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). We worked closely with our ACCC colleagues on their Digital Platforms Inquiry, which is a significant contribution to the global debate on the future regulatory settings for these important and influential services. The government is expected to release its response to the ACCC’s report in 2019–20.

We continue to review, assess and build our capability to equip us to meet the future demands of government and the dynamic sectors we regulate. An independent review of our capability was conducted in consultation with our staff. The review has assisted us to identify strengths and we are implementing actions across the agency to improve our capability.

Consistent with the government’s Digital Service Standard, we are also transforming our website, acma.gov.au, to deliver our services more effectively. The ‘beta’ site was launched in June 2019 and we are seeking feedback to ensure it meets our stakeholders’ needs.

In 2018–19, we bedded down the new operational model for the Authority. The new arrangements (including specific areas on which Authority members take the lead), implemented in September 2018, have resulted in a renewed focus on the timeliness of decision-making. As a result, the Authority met 38 times in 2018–19 compared to 16 times in 2017–18.

The Authority also focused on improving the transparency and clarity of our decision-making. For the very first time, the Authority announced in April 2019 a set of agency-wide compliance priorities for 2019–20. This strategic approach provides transparency to industry on where the ACMA will be placing its compliance efforts in a consistent and coordinated manner. Our decision-making has also been further enhanced with new cross-appointment arrangements with the ACCC.

In September 2018, the Minister for Communications and the Arts provided the ACMA with a formal statement setting out the government’s expectations about our performance, key relationships, accountability and its policy priorities. We have subsequently published our Statement of Intent outlining our high-level priorities and intentions around our role, responsibilities and relationship with the government.

2018–19 has been a year of significant change for the ACMA and the sectors that we regulate. I would like to thank my Authority colleagues and ACMA staff for their responsiveness to change, their hard work and dedication in delivering for the Australian public in 2018–19.

Nerida O’Loughlin PSM