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Report on performance

Annual Performance Statement 2019–20

Introductory statement

I, Nerida O’Loughlin, as the accountable authority of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, present the 2019–20 Annual Performance Statement of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as required under subsection 39(1) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). In my opinion, this Annual Performance Statement accurately reflects the performance of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and complies with subsection 39(2) of the PGPA Act.

ACMA Chair signature

Nerida O’Loughlin PSM
Chair and Agency Head

ACMA performance framework

The ACMA’s performance framework consists of our:

  • corporate plan—this sets out what we intend to achieve
  • PBS targets and criteria—these are for the programs of work we are funded by the government to deliver
  • Annual Performance Statement (APS)—this provides an assessment of our activities in achieving our purpose.

There are a number of activities under each strategic priority in our corporate plan that we undertake to achieve our purpose. The performance measures associated with each activity, along with the benefits that each activity aims to deliver, are the basis for assessing our performance in meeting our purpose.

Each year we review and update our performance measures and, in 2019–20, we also included quantitative metrics and qualitative sources (methods and data) for each performance measure in the corporate plan. The methods and data outline the tools and metrics we used to assess our success against each of the performance measures.

Figure 1.2 shows the relationship between the purpose and strategic priorities in our 2019–20 corporate plan with the outcome and programs funded by the government in the 2019–20 PBS.
Program 1.3 relates to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and is reported on separately in Part 2—Office of the eSafety Commissioner annual report 2019–20.

Figure 1.2: Alignment of the ACMA’s PBS 2019–20, Corporate plan 2019–20 and APS 2019–20 Alignment of the ACMA’s PBS 2019–20, Corporate plan 2019–20 and APS 2019–20

Analysis of performance against purpose

During 2019–20, the ACMA continued to undertake key activities to meet its purpose of maximising the economic and social benefits of communications and media for Australia. These activities supported a connected, informed and entertained Australia by promoting public confidence in the communications and media sector, managing spectrum to benefit all Australians and anticipating changes in our environment.

We achieved our PBS outcomes by using regulation, education and advice to balance the needs of industry and the community.

The environment that the ACMA operated in during the reporting period saw extreme bushfires affect large parts of Australia that impacted the telecommunications network. This was followed by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which again saw the telecommunications and media sectors play a pivotal role in keeping Australians connected—this time during sustained periods of isolation.

This required us to respond swiftly and flexibly to redirect resources to support the media and communications industry and the Australian community. This included:

  • establishing an internal taskforce to address urgent requests from industry
  • postponing or extending consultation periods to enable stakeholders to focus on their critical services
  • exercising forbearance by not taking enforcement action for non-compliance with specific provisions of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code, as long as the relevant telco provider met alternative commitments
  • delaying enforcement of new obligations for mobile providers to enhance customer notifications and expenditure caps for mobile services
  • exercising forbearance to commercial television broadcasters with their annual quota obligations for Australian drama, children’s and preschool drama, and Australian documentaries
  • providing temporary relief to subscription television broadcasting on their minimum levels of expenditure on new eligible drama programs
  • providing regional commercial radio broadcasters with compliance reporting relief and temporary relief for local news, weather bulletins and community announcements quotas.

These initiatives were not anticipated when performance measures were developed, however, they were necessary to ensure we continued to achieve our purpose throughout the year. Their implementation meant that our ability to meet the planned performance measures was impacted. We fully met 23 of 29 of our performance measures with the remainder being mostly met. Of the six mostly met, five were either directly or indirectly due to the initiatives implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following summarises our performance results by the key activities listed under each strategic priority in the corporate plan.

Overview of results

Met

Mostly met

Not
met

1

Strategic priority 1—Public confidence in communications and media services through the provision of regulatory safeguards, information and advice

1.1

Deliver safeguards that meet the needs of Australians using media and communications services

1.2

Promote compliance with communications and media safeguards and public interest outcomes through compliance monitoring, complaints-handling, investigating, enforcement and program delivery

1.3

Build consumer, audience and industry understanding of risks, rights, responsibilities and safeguards

2

Strategic priority 2—Spectrum arrangements that benefit all Australians through efficient and effective spectrum management

2.1

Plan the availability of Australia’s radiofrequency spectrum to optimise its value to the Australian community

2.2

Allocate and licence access to the radiofrequency spectrum, using both administrative and market-based methods, ensuring adequate provision for defence, public safety and community purposes

2.3

Manage the risk of interference and other harms through investigation and other compliance and enforcement activities and education programs

3

Strategic priority 3—A regulatory framework that anticipates change in dynamic communications and media markets through monitoring our environment and influencing regulatory responses

3.1

Conduct qualitative and quantitative research to enhance the ACMA’s understanding of consumers and audiences[1]

3.2

Build ACMA capability for data analysis to enable improved understanding of regulatory and market developments

3.3

Engage with stakeholders and government to support regulatory frameworks and obligations that are fit for purpose now, and as markets evolve

3.4

Improve regulatory practices to reduce regulatory burden, increase transparency and timeliness, and ensure actions are proportionate to risks

[1] Activity 3.1 contains three performance measures that were mostly met.

Strategic priorities, benefits to stakeholders and outcomes

Strategic priority 1—Public confidence in communications and media services through the provision of regulatory safeguards, information and advice

Benefit: Appropriate and relevant safeguards are available to Australians consuming content and using media and communications services

The new safeguards we introduced this year addressed consumer harms by:

  • establishing a three-point action plan to reduce scam calls so people can trust the calls they receive
  • blocking a range of illegal offshore gambling websites
  • developing a new set of rules in the Telecommunications (Emergency Call Services) Determination 2019 to help make our telecommunications networks more reliable
  • combating mobile phone porting scams to protect consumers’ access to their phone services and data.

We continued monitoring and conducted audits of:

  • broadcasting and online gambling advertising rules
  • NBN consumer experience rules.

We published:

  • the Gambling advertising in Australia: Consumer and advertising placement research report
  • the Telecommunications complaints-handling 2018–19 report
  • the Combating scams—Action plan summary, a report from the Scam Technology Project
  • the Customer financial hardship in the telco industry: State of play report 2018–19, the first of its kind, on how telcos deal with issues around consumer financial hardship.

We reviewed existing regulation and identified improvements to:

  • the NBN consumer experience rules to ensure they are fit for purpose
  • the International Mobile Roaming Standard.

Benefit: Compliant businesses, confident consumers and assured audiences

We prioritised and targeted our responses to risks of non-compliance and consumer harm, by taking action on:

  • telcos’ compliance with the TCP Code
  • telemarketing practices, with a focus on the solar industry and lead generation, resulting in infringement notices totalling $1,767,300 for breaches of telemarketing rules
  • telcos’ compliance with the NBN consumer experience rules
  • blocking the provision of illegal offshore wagering services offered in Australia.

The efficiency and effectiveness of our compliance and enforcement work was reflected by:

  • over 93 per cent of 199 investigations being completed within benchmark timeframes
  • a 54 per cent reduction in the number of complaints received about solar telemarketing since the start of the 2017–18 reporting period
  • over 86 per cent of illegal offshore gambling websites withdrawing from the Australian market following contact by the ACMA, or after receiving a formal warning.

Complaints about non-compliance with legislation, standards and codes can be made to the ACMA using a diverse range of avenues, including online complaint forms, email, phone, post and SMS.

Benefit: Australians can easily opt out of unwanted telemarketing calls

Consumers were able to register, check or remove their numbers on the Do Not Call Register (DNCR) and businesses could check numbers against the register.

Benefit: Innovation by public interest journalism businesses is promoted

Regional and small publishers were supported by the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund to transition to and compete more successfully in the evolving media environment.

Benefit: Targeted advice and information is provided to consumers, audiences and regulated entities in a clear and timely manner

We provided timely information about the rules and regulations we administer via:

  • our refreshed website, which went live in October 2019 and was re-designed to help us deliver our services more efficiently in a manner consistent with the government’s digital transformation strategy
  • media releases, guides and alerts on the ACMA website and through social media on a range of other issues, including the publication of our investigations and enforcement actions
  • a consumer awareness campaign designed to educate consumers about what interactive gambling services are provided legally in Australia and the risks in using offshore services
  • information and updates to consumers on their rights and available safeguards during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strategic priority 2—Spectrum arrangements that benefit all Australians through efficient and effective spectrum management

Benefit: Spectrum planning balances the needs and interests of stakeholders and the broader community

Competing needs and interests of stakeholders were balanced with international developments in the development and finalisation of the ACMA’s published spectrum work program.

Stakeholders’ needs and interests were identified through consultation. Forty-three stakeholder submissions were considered in the development of the 2019–23 spectrum work program. This led to adjustments in our planning priorities, updates to our five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO) and inclusion of planned consultations over the period. In addition to the forward work program, other areas covered included:

  • international engagement
  • planning and optimising established spectrum frameworks
  • spectrum management practice improvements
  • licensing
  • pricing
  • compliance and enforcement.

Stakeholders have reported finding the work program and FYSO to be a useful planning tool, particularly the inclusion of a progress report in the FYSO program.

Benefit: Australia’s needs and interests are addressed in international harmonisation processes

We contributed to strengthening Australia’s position in international negotiations to achieve better outcomes for spectrum use in Australia by providing technical knowledge and expertise.
We supported the then Department of Communications and the Arts as the lead agency at a number of international preparatory meetings and at the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) held in late 2019, including developing regional negotiating positions with a number of countries in the Asia–Pacific.

Benefit: Spectrum access terms and conditions are responsive to changing demand and spectrum value; and sufficient spectrum can be accessed for defence, public safety, law enforcement and community uses

Spectrum use was optimised by:

  • progressing the allocation process for the 26 and 28 GHz bands
  • enhancing the 3.4–3.575 GHz band
  • changing arrangements in the 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands
  • reviewing the future use of the 2 GHz band
  • considering new approaches to spectrum sharing
  • publishing The future delivery of radio report findings.

Public safety was enhanced by:

  • consulting on a review of the radiocommunications prohibitions and exemptions framework in order to facilitate a range of safety, security, law enforcement and defence outcomes that can only be achieved using devices that would otherwise be prohibited.

Stakeholders benefited from the efficient delivery of our licence administration, with all timeliness benchmarks met. Stakeholders affected by the bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic were able to defer payment for their licence fees.

Benefit: Compliance and enforcement activities are commensurate with risk and harm and are supported by targeted information and advice

We managed the risk of interference and other harms to the legitimate use of spectrum and protected public safety by:

  • responding to complaints about interference to mobile and non-mobile networks with appropriate compliance and enforcement actions, including advice notices and warning notices
  • targeting potential sources of interference, including an audit of solar industry compliance with equipment standards and labelling notices
  • conducting monitoring and site audits of licensees in the 5.6 GHz and 400 MHz bands
  • taking action in relation to the unlicensed use of spectrum
  • auditing electromagnetic energy (EME) compliance in response to community concerns over the use of small cells for 5G
  • investigating equipment standards and customer cabling issues.
Strategic priority 3—A regulatory framework that anticipates change in dynamic communications and media markets through monitoring our environment and influencing regulatory responses

Benefit: The ACMA, the government and the community are informed about communications and media markets and issues relevant to public interest objectives

Regulatory responses were informed by evidence gathered through research. We:

  • published research in our communications report that revealed market and consumer trends and tabled it in Parliament
  • commenced research into topics including artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and best practice regulatory theory
  • started work to measure media diversity and local news
  • collaborated with Screen Australia to develop an options paper for government on potential interventions for Australian and children’s screen content
  • released a position paper to guide digital platforms in their code(s) of practice dealing with misinformation and news quality
  • conducted research in a number of areas—including news on television and radio, and the experience of telecommunications consumers—to inform our understanding of the impact developments in these markets are having on public interest outcomes.

Benefit: The ACMA has the capacity to make optimal and safe use of data to inform evidence-based regulatory analysis and action

Better use of our data will deliver stronger outcomes for our stakeholders. We are continuing our focus on growing our data capability and now have a comprehensive understanding of our data strengths, gaps and opportunities. We are piloting three data action projects across the agency covering spectrum data and analytics, provider performance monitoring, and industry and market reporting.

Benefit: ACMA engagement supports regulatory frameworks to evolve with contemporary markets and consumer and audience needs

To inform the development of fit for purpose regulation, we:

  • conducted our stakeholder survey, which helps us assess and improve our engagement with key stakeholders
  • formally consulted with stakeholders through 42 consultation processes
  • participated in conferences, meetings and working groups, including WRC-19.

We also made submissions to reviews and inquiries on new and emerging regulatory pressures relevant to our remit.

Benefit: Regulation administered by the ACMA does not impose unnecessary burden on industry or the community

Monitoring the delivery and administration of our regulation led to improvements in our regulatory practice:

  • Our annual customer service user satisfaction survey guided improvements to our stakeholder interactions.
  • Stakeholder enquiries were responded to promptly and we provided timely information about the rules and regulations we administer via our Customer Service Centre, which resolved an average of 95 per cent of enquiries within three working days.
  • Our annual Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) self-assessment with stakeholder validation led to improved transparency of the Authority’s strategic intent, responsibilities, and the culture and values that guide its work. We also maintained a whole-of-agency approach to our compliance priority process, providing greater clarity for our stakeholders about our compliance work.

The outcomes of our strategic priorities were achieved through the delivery of our performance measures. An assessment of our performance measures against each of our key activities is detailed in the following section.

Strategic priority 1: Public confidence in communications and media services through the provision of regulatory safeguards, information and advice

1.1 Deliver safeguards that meet the needs of Australians using media and communications services

We ensured that the safeguards we deliver met the needs of Australians by monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of existing regulations by undertaking reviews and research. This enabled us to implement or amend rules to ensure safeguards continue to meet consumer needs.

We monitored the operation and effectiveness of rules for gambling advertising during live sports events, undertook a post-implementation review measuring the effectiveness of the NBN consumer experiences rules as made in 2018–19, assessed customer financial hardship in the telecommunications industries and reviewed the implementation by industry of the credit assessment rules in the TCP Code.

Based on research undertaken, we also implemented new or amended rules for international mobile roaming determinations and emergency call services.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 14

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 102

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Broadcasting and online gambling advertising rules are effective in protecting children

Appropriate and relevant safeguards are available to Australians consuming content and using communications and media services

Targets:

Effectiveness of the NBN rules are monitored

Effectiveness of the broadcasting and online content rules for gambling advertising is monitored

NBN migration rules assist consumers to move seamlessly to the NBN

Evidence of telecommunications consumer experience informs advice to government and rule-making processes

Broadcasting and online gambling advertising rules are effective in protecting children
Monitoring of broadcasting and online rules to restrict gambling during live sport coverage

In the prior reporting period, we introduced restrictions to protect children from exposure to gambling advertising during live sporting events broadcast on television and radio and streamed online. During 2019–20, we monitored the effectiveness of the rules during key live sporting events, assessed complaints and conducted consumer and market research.

In November 2019, we published a report, which examined:

  • where advertisers put their gambling ads, both before and after the new rules started
  • complaints and investigations about gambling ads
  • live sports coverage to see if providers were following the rules
  • parents’ views on gambling ads.

The results of our monitoring activities indicate that the government’s policy to protect children from gambling ads in live sport between 5 am and 8.30 pm has been effective on broadcasting platforms. We found that broadcasters are following the rules, with a marked decrease in the volume of gambling ads from the start of pre-game shows to the end of post-game shows.

However, our report also noted that parents remain concerned about exposure of children to gambling advertising, particularly parents of older children. There was an observed shift in gambling ads to after the 8.30 pm watershed and an increase in gambling ads in non-sports content. In relation to streaming platforms, our monitoring activities identified some minor inconsistencies in the application of the Broadcasting Services (Online Content Service Provider) Rules 2018 (online rules) by service providers. There were two breaches of online rules, by SEN+ and 9Now, which streamed gambling promotions during online coverage of live sporting events. We are continuing to monitor the operation of the online rules for an additional 12 months to ensure that the restrictions are delivering appropriate safeguards online.

Investigations into broadcasting and online gambling advertising

In response to issues identified through our monitoring activities, several investigations were conducted, and enforcement action taken.

An online provider, SEN+, was issued with a remedial direction in September 2019 after a breach investigation finding for a broadcast of the 2019 Australian Open tennis tournament. The remedial direction required the provider to commission an independent audit of its processes and practices, and conduct staff training on the rules to ensure future compliance with the rules. The provider was also required to report the audit findings and recommended improvements to the ACMA.

The publication of these investigation findings helps raise industry and community awareness about the restrictions in place to protect children from exposure to gambling advertising during live sporting events.

Case study: Breaching gambling ad rules

In December 2019, we found that Channel Nine streamed gambling advertisements during the pre-game programming for State of Origin games 1 and 2 on its platform 9Now. We also simultaneously investigated the broadcast of the State of Origin on Channel Nine and found that there was no breach of the broadcast gambling advertising rules.

Under gambling advertising rules, restrictions start five minutes before the start of play (‘kick-off’) if the broadcaster/online provider lets viewers know when the game starts at least 24 hours in advance. If ‘kick-off’ is not published in this way, the rules start five minutes before the pre-game coverage.

Nine published the State of Origin ‘kick-off’ in its online TV guide. The ACMA considered the publication of information in an online TV guide was not clear and prominent for those online viewers using the 9Now app to watch the streamed services. Accordingly, we found the gambling restrictions that applied to the online streaming service commenced five minutes before the start of the State of Origin pre-game programming. As gambling advertising was shown during that programming, Nine breached the rules.

However, Nine published the ‘kick-off’ in its online TV guide at least 24 hours ahead of the game in a way sufficient to provide clear information to broadcast viewers. As no gambling advertisements were broadcast in the five minutes before ‘kick-off’, there was no breach of the rules in relation to the broadcast.

The investigation illustrates the importance of making information about the scheduled start of live sporting events ‘clear and prominent’ to users of online content services. It also makes clear the ACMA’s position that if online coverage of a sporting event does not include identical advertising content to the broadcast transmission, it will not be considered an exempt online simulcast service for the purposes of the gambling restrictions that apply to online services.

NBN migration rules assist consumers to move seamlessly to the NBN
Post-implementation review of NBN consumer experience rules

During 2019–20, we undertook a post-implementation review of the NBN consumer experience rules made in 2018–19 to ensure that the safeguards remain fit for purpose. The first round of consultation on the rules was conducted during August–September 2019 and sought stakeholder and community views about the effectiveness and efficiency of the:

  • Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints Handling) Industry Standard 2018 (the Complaints Handling Standard), which is intended to improve telcos’ management and resolution of consumer complaints
  • Telecommunications (NBN Consumer Information) Industry Standard 2018 (the Consumer Information Standard), which ensures consumers have the information they need to choose a suitable service on the NBN
  • Telecommunications (NBN Continuity of Service) Industry Standard 2018 (the Service Continuity Standard) and Telecommunications Service Provider (NBN Service Migration) Determination 2018 (the Service Migration Determination), which aim to make sure consumers are not left without a working service and that the service delivers the speeds specified in their plan.

This review, coupled with our ongoing compliance work, identified that some improvements to the rules would further strengthen and clarify their operation, including to:

  • clarify the definition of ‘complaint’ in the Complaints Handling Standard
  • revise the definition of ‘consumer’ to align with the TCP Code’s definition
  • fine-tune the type of information telcos must give consumers in their key facts sheet in the Consumer Information Standard
  • add a definition of ‘alternative arrangement’ into the Service Continuity Standard aligned with that in the Service Migration Determination
  • clarify the definition of ‘migration’ in the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination.

A second round of consultation on the revised draft rules was conducted during December 2019–January 2020. A further round of targeted consultation on revised drafts of the Service Continuity Standard and the Service Migration Determination, scheduled to occur in mid-March 2020, was suspended for the remainder of the reporting period. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the communications sector to focus on business-critical functions to support the connectivity of consumers, including those experiencing hardship. Although the pandemic interrupted the review of the NBN consumer experience rules, the ACMA continued its compliance work in relation to those rules.

Evidence of telecommunications consumer experience informs advice to government and rule-making processes
Mobile number fraud and identity theft

Mobile number portability is a regulatory obligation that facilitates competition by allowing customers to change telecommunications providers without changing their mobile phone number.
There have been cases of scammers using specific personal information obtained from online or other sources (such as mailbox theft) to fraudulently port a person’s mobile number from their current service provider to another. Scammers have then used the ported number to access the consumer’s bank accounts and authorise transactions by having bank verification codes sent to the number.

In response to this, we made the new Telecommunications (Mobile Number Pre-porting Additional Identity Verification) Industry Standard 2020. This standard commenced in April 2020 and requires mobile providers to implement stronger identity verification processes before a phone number can be ported. The new process requires multi-factor authentication, where a consumer must respond to the telco to confirm they have authorised the transfer. This will help prevent malicious actors from exploiting the porting process to illegitimately access bank accounts and perpetrate other identify fraud.

National Self-Exclusion Register

In recognition that online problem gambling is three times higher than other types of gambling, the government established the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering in November 2018. A key measure of the framework is the establishment of the National Self-Exclusion Register (NSER). This will provide stronger consumer protections for Australians gambling online and allow people to self-exclude from all online wagering sites and apps in a single process.
Amendments to the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 were passed by Parliament in December 2019 to enable the ACMA to establish the NSER. In October 2019, in expectation of the amendments, we commenced a multi-stage procurement process to procure an independent provider to develop and operate the NSER. The NSER is anticipated to begin in 2021.

Customer financial hardship in the telco industry: State of play report 2018–19

The financial hardship ‘state of play’ report, the first of its kind by the ACMA, was published in April 2020. Based on information from the largest 11 telcos offering post-paid services during 2018–19, the report examined the new financial hardship rules in the TCP Code, the procedures followed by telcos, and findings about consumer financial hardship in the sector.

It also facilitated consideration of the effectiveness of the financial hardship rules, raised awareness of telcos’ financial hardship programs and encouraged consumers experiencing financial difficulties (including during the COVID-19 pandemic), to make use of them.

Credit assessment study

We commissioned a credit assessment ‘shadow shopping’ study to aid in testing whether telcos have changed the way they are interacting with customers as required by the new credit assessment rules in the TCP Code. The new rules, which came into effect in August 2019, are intended to prevent vulnerable consumers (in particular) from entering into excessive commitments. Fieldwork was conducted between late December 2019 and mid-February 2020, with the study completed in June 2020.

The study indicated that there were potential issues with in-store sign-up practices compared to online or telephone sales channels. To address potential deficiencies, we will be engaging with telcos to improve in-store credit assessment practices.

Telco complaints drop as consumers migrate to NBN

The ACMA receives complaints data under the Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints) Record-Keeping Rules 2018 from qualifying providers on a quarterly basis. A qualifying provider is one that has over 30,000 services in operation within the reporting quarter.

In October 2019, we published the Telecommunications complaints-handling 2018–19 report. In March 2020, we released our first interactive telco complaints dashboard. This provided indicators of complaint handling performance for the September and December 2019 quarters from qualifying telcos.

Both the October telco complaints report and the March telco complaints dashboard included performance data on complaint volumes, complaints by service type, the type of service associated with complaints about broadband services delivered over the NBN, and time taken to resolve complaints.

Data for the March 2020 quarter showed improvement in complaint handling levels across all key indicators compared to March 2019, except for fixed voice (no change).

As well as providing consumers with information about the performance of key telecommunication services, these reports allow us to assess the effectiveness of our interventions and offer improved visibility into provider performance and industry improvements over time. The performance demonstrated by the reports is also expected to inform the government’s Consumer Safeguards review.

International Mobile Roaming Determination

Safeguards related to international mobile roaming (IMR), intended to minimise bill shock from international roaming charges, have been in place since 2013. In December 2019, we made the Telecommunications Service Provider (International Mobile Roaming) Determination 2019 that revised and replaced the previous safeguards, with the new rules coming into effect from 1 July 2020.

The changes are intended to:

  • cater for the growing number of consumers now using IMR services on tablets
  • ensure providers offer additional non-SMS communication options to customers (for receiving IMR-related notifications), recognising the use of devices that do not support SMS overseas.

Under the new rules, notifications must be sent to any device capable of accessing international roaming, and may also be delivered through alternate means such as email or an app.

The ACMA will not be enforcing new requirements introduced under the changes before January 2021. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the communications sector to focus on business-critical functions to support the connectivity of consumers, including those experiencing hardship. It also recognises the significant reduction in international travel that is expected to continue until at least the end of December 2020.

Emergency call service

The emergency call service is a national operator-assisted service that connects emergency callers free-of-charge to state and territory emergency services—police, fire and ambulance. It is provided by:

  • Telstra Corporation Limited, the emergency call person (ECP) for the emergency service numbers Triple Zero (000) and 112
  • the National Relay Service provider, Concentrix Services Pty Ltd, the ECP for the emergency service number 106. This service is used by people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment and who use a teletypewriter.

In November 2019, we made the Telecommunications (Emergency Call Services) Determination 2019 (ECSD 2019) that revised and replaced the previous rules applying to the emergency call service.

The revisions were, in part, a response to an investigation we conducted into a May 2018 outage of the 000 emergency call service, where 1,433 emergency calls failed because of fire and network software problems.

1.2 Promote compliance with communications and media safeguards and public interest outcomes through compliance monitoring, complaints-handling, investigating, enforcement and program delivery

We monitored compliance issues in our environment using complaints and other intelligence, stakeholder feedback, consumer research and trends, as well as information provided by other regulators and consumer groups. We raised awareness of compliance activities by publishing and reporting on our compliance priorities. This informed targeted audits and investigations, leading to non-compliance being addressed through prompt action. A number of these actions were aimed at reducing the risk of non-compliance in the future by addressing systemic causes of breaches.

We measured our efficiency against benchmark response times, with almost all investigations being completed within our four-month average benchmark timeframe. A small number of investigations exceeded our six-month benchmark timeframe due to their complexity. We facilitated our effectiveness by establishing and delivering against our compliance priorities.

The contracts for program delivery that we manage continued to meet key performance indicators for quality, timeliness and cost. We also administered grants to assist regional and small publishers adapt to changing market conditions, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20,
pp. 15–6

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 103

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Consumers and audiences have effective and efficient avenues for complaints

Compliant businesses, confident consumers and assured audiences

Target:

Avenues for making complaints are available and accessible to consumers and audiences and complaints are handled within published timeframes

Annual compliance priorities address regulatory needs, are developed within broader compliance program and are widely understood by stakeholders

The ACMA takes compliance and commensurate enforcement action where appropriate

Compliant businesses, confident consumers and assured audiences

Target:

Annual priority compliance areas for online gambling, broadcasting, telecommunications, spam, Integrated Public Number Database and Do Not Call Register (DNCR) regulatory frameworks are developed, published and acted upon

Effective and efficient investigations and enforcement outcomes

Compliant businesses, confident consumers and assured audiences

Target:

Investigations and enforcement outcomes are delivered within target timeframes and according to the ACMA’s compliance and enforcement policy

Contractual service levels for the Do Not Call Register are met

Programs deliver public interest outcomes

Target:

Contractual service levels for DNCR are met

Efficient and effective delivery of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund grants

Programs deliver public interest outcomes

Target:

The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund grants program is implemented, with grants made within published timeframes

Consumers and audiences have effective and efficient avenues for complaints

Consumers had consistent access to multiple ACMA channels for enquiries and complaints throughout the year. Complaint web forms were available on average 99 per cent of the time. In 2019–20, we released our updated website that improved accessibility to complaint avenues for consumers and audiences. There are several channels for consumer and audience complaints:

  • mobile phone base station deployment—complaint form, email, phone, post
  • carriers’ powers and immunities—email, phone, post
  • installation of fibre-ready pits and pipes—email, phone, post
  • emergency call service—email, phone, post
  • interactive gambling services—online complaint form, post
  • broadcasting services—email, phone, post, online complaint form
  • gambling ads during live sports online—email, phone, post, online complaint form
  • telemarketing calls—phone, online complaint form
  • spam—email, SMS, online complaint form.

The design and content of spam online complaint forms were also reviewed to ensure they were user-friendly and easy to access.

The effectiveness and efficiency of our complaint processes is measured by the number of contacts (complaints and enquiries) made by the public and our response times, as shown in Table 1.2.

Table 1.2 Complaints, enquiries and responses within benchmark timeframes, 2019–20

Topic area

Complaints

Enquiries

Total contacts received

% of contacts actioned within benchmark timeframe*

Mobile phone base station deployments

170

27

197

100%

Carriers’ powers and immunities

15

49

64

100%

Installation of fibre-ready pits and pipes

0

1

1

100%

Emergency call service

8

24

32

100%

Interactive gambling

371

97

468

100%

Broadcasting

1326

360

1686

100%

Gambling ads during live sport online

1

1

2

100%

Telemarketing

30, 603

13, 910

44, 513

100%

Spam

6, 858

1, 173

8, 031

100%

* Spam and telemarketing complaints have a benchmark timeframe for action within 15 business days. Content complaints have a benchmark timeframe for action within seven business days. Complaints about mobile phone base station deployments, carriers’ powers and immunities, installation of fibre-ready pits and pipes, and the emergency call service have a benchmark of two business days.

Annual compliance priorities address regulatory needs, are developed within broader compliance program and are widely understood by stakeholders. The ACMA takes compliance and commensurate enforcement action where appropriate

Our compliance priorities establish key areas of focus for our compliance activities for the year. They guide our efforts to deliver effective compliance and, where necessary, targeted enforcement action. We choose specific compliance priorities because they are in the public interest or represent developing areas where we can encourage compliance and boost public confidence. As new technologies and markets emerge, we test how well our regulatory framework and current laws are working.

Compliance priorities for 2019–20

This year was the first complete year we adopted an agency-wide strategic approach in prioritising our compliance work and publishing the priorities before the start of the year. This provided greater transparency, clarity and certainty for industry and consumers.

The annual compliance priorities for 2019–20 were published in April 2019 with compliance activities undertaken during the year reported in quarterly web reports.

The compliance priorities for 2019–20 were:

  • telecommunications consumer safeguards
  • small cell base stations for 4G and 5G and base station compliance
  • unsolicited communications: solar telemarketing and lead generation
  • broadcast news—focusing on practices of the broadcasters and whether the current regulatory framework (including the broadcasters’ codes of practice) are fit for purpose today
  • gambling—focusing on gambling advertising during broadcasts and online, credit betting and offshore unlicensed gambling
  • solar inverter interference and unlicensed activity in the 5.6 GHz and 400 MHz spectrum bands.

Further analysis of compliance and enforcement activities and investigations for these compliance priorities appears under the performance measure ‘Effective and efficient investigations and enforcement outcomes’.

Establishing compliance priorities for 2020–21

To establish the compliance priorities for 2020–21, we built on the successes of 2019–20 and introduced an external consultation process to seek input on, and generate greater understanding of, our proposed compliance priorities. The 2020–21 compliance priorities were released and available to industry in April 2020 following consideration of the consultation outcomes.

Effective and efficient investigations and enforcement outcomes
Monitoring NBN consumer experience rules

Monitoring compliance with the rules designed to help consumers move to the NBN was a
2019–20 telco consumer safeguards compliance priority. We utilised complaints data received under our Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints) Record-Keeping Rules 2018 (record-keeping rules) and data from other sources such as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) to focus our compliance activities. These activities included compliance audits, investigations of potential non-compliance and enforcement action (where necessary). We also published the outcomes of our compliance activities concerning the NBN migration rules.

During 2019–20:

  • seven providers paid a total of $88,200 in infringement notices issued for noncompliance with the Consumer Information Standard, which is designed to ensure telcos provide consumers with adequate information about NBN services. The investigations were completed in 2018–19
  • a provider paid an infringement notice for $12,600 for not complying with the record-keeping rules
  • we completed investigations into the compliance by four providers with requirements in the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination following audits conducted early in the reporting period. The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in finalising enforcement actions for these investigations. These will now be finalised in the next reporting period
  • we issued a remedial direction to a provider after an investigation found it failed to comply with the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination
  • we issued a remedial direction to a provider in relation to a failure to have documents required by the Complaints Handling Standard and Consumer Information Standard. We also issued a direction to comply with the TCP Code to the same provider for a failure to comply with requirements relating to transfers of services
  • we requested five providers address minor instances of non-compliance relating to the monitoring and analysis requirements of the Complaints Handling Standard and two providers address minor deficiencies in their compliance with requirements under the Consumer Information Standard
  • we commenced an audit of the compliance of six providers with requirements under the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination for parallel migrations (where the legacy service can remain operational while the NBN is connected), including whether post-migration testing is being completed and numbers are ported appropriately. The COVID-19 pandemic impeded our finalisation of this audit in the reporting period.
Table 1.3 Investigations into compliance with NBN consumer experience safeguards, 2019–20

2019–20

Total investigations completed*

7

Investigations into compliance with the Complaints Handling Standard

1

Investigations into compliance with the Consumer Information Standard

1

Investigations into compliance with the Service Continuity Standard

3

Investigations into compliance with the Service Migration Determination

5

Investigations into compliance with the record-keeping rules

1

Total number of breach findings

11

Complaints Handling Standard breach findings

1

Consumer Information Standard breach findings

1

Service Continuity Standard breach findings

3

Service Migration Determination breach findings

5

Record-keeping rules breach findings

1

Actions for breach findings

Formal warnings

0

Remedial directions

2

Infringement notices

1

No further action

0

Investigations completed within four months

1

Investigations completed within benchmark timeframe of six months

7

Average time for investigations

5 months

* We completed four investigations into compliance with multiple instruments. Three investigations considered compliance with both the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination and one investigation was conducted into compliance with the Complaints Handling Standard, Consumer Information Standard and TCP Code.

We did not meet the four-month average timeframe for the completion of investigations due to the complexity of the investigations into the Service Continuity Standard and Service Migration Determination.

Other telecommunications consumer safeguards

Table 1.4 provides details of investigations into compliance with other telecommunications consumer safeguards, including:

  • Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999
  • TCP Code.

Our actions included:

  • issuing formal warnings at the conclusion of investigations that found four providers had failed to join the TIO scheme as required under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act
  • initiating Federal Court proceedings against Sydney-based telco Red Telecom Pty Ltd and its director Nicholas Kontaxis for alleged failure to comply with seven decisions of the TIO
  • completing 16 investigations into compliance with the TCP Code including 10 investigations that found 10 providers had breached the Code by failing to lodge annual compliance statements with independent monitoring group Communications Compliance.
Table 1.4 Investigations into compliance with other telecommunications consumer safeguards, 2019–20

2019–20

Total investigations completed

38

Total number of breach findings

19

Actions for breach findings

Formal warnings

6*

Direction to comply with industry code

11

Remedial directions

1

Infringement notices

0

Civil proceedings

1

Investigations completed within four months

22

Investigations completed within benchmark timeframe of six months

33

Average time for investigations

3.6 months

* This number reflects the number of ACMA decisions to issue a formal warning. Four of the six formal warnings were not issued to the relevant providers until the following reporting period.

One investigation exceeded six months because of the complexity of the matter. Four other investigations that also exceeded the six-month benchmark were part of a series of seven investigations related to the same provider, and were completed at the same time.

Interactive gambling

We targeted our compliance and enforcement activities under the Interactive Gambling Act 2001 (IGA) to have the greatest impact on the supply of illegal gambling services to Australians.

Consumers can also make a complaint using our interactive gambling complaints form if they believe a website offers illegal gambling services.

Our compliance and enforcement activities target both onshore and offshore gambling services as some overseas gambling services target the Australian market even though it is not legal for them to do so. The danger for consumers is that these services do not attract the same customer protections as onshore licenced services.

Internet service providers (ISPs) help us disrupt illegal online content by blocking access to websites upon request by the ACMA. Table 1.5 provides details of investigations and enforcement action taken under the IGA.

Our actions included:

  • completing five investigations into the prohibition on the provision of credit by Australian wagering operators, which was a compliance priority area for the ACMA in 2019–20. All investigations resulted in findings of no contravention
  • completing investigations into 20 offshore wagering services, which was also a compliance priority area in 2019–20
  • referring three individuals who were found to be contravening the IGA to the Department of Home Affairs, for inclusion on the Movement Alert List
  • making 66 requests under section 313 of the Telecommunications Act to ISPs to block access to online gambling services found to contravene the IGA.
Table 1.5 Investigations and enforcement action under the IGA, 2019–20

2019–20

Total investigations completed

83

Number of investigations resulting in a finding of one or more breaches

67

Total number of separate breach findings

106

Providing a prohibited interactive gambling service to Australian customers

94

Providing an unlicensed regulated interactive gambling service to
Australian customers

11

Advertising a prohibited or unlicensed regulated interactive gambling service
in Australia

1

Actions for breach findings

Formal warnings

10

Notification to international licensing authorities

5

URLs reported to family-friendly filter providers

70

Requests to ISPs to block websites

66

Investigations completed within four months

65

Investigations completed within benchmark timeframe of six months

81*

Average time for investigations

2.1 months

* Two investigations exceeded the benchmark timeframe of six months because of the complexity of the matters and competing priorities.

Case study: Combating illegal online gambling

The ACMA targeted offshore wagering operators illegally providing services in the Australian market as a compliance priority area in 2019–20.

Illegal offshore wagering has a significant social and financial impact on the Australian community through the increased risk to problem gamblers, as well as loss of revenue to locally licensed operators, sports and racing bodies and a resulting reduction in taxation revenue to government. It also poses an increased threat to the integrity of sport.

We targeted 20 offshore wagering services for investigation. These services were
identified through monitoring during major sporting events and information provided by industry stakeholders.

Fourteen offshore wagering services were found to be operating illegally in Australia.

Our campaign has been successful with over 86 per cent of services that were being provided illegally withdrawing from the Australian market following contact by the ACMA during the investigation or after receiving a formal warning.

Enforcement action is continuing against the non-compliant services.
The investigations were supported by a comprehensive education campaign to raise awareness of services that are provided illegally in Australia and to alert consumers to the risks in using them.

Broadcasting and online gambling content

We completed 50 investigations into broadcasters’ compliance with codes of practice, licence conditions and standards related to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA), with 48 of these finalised within our six-month benchmark (see Table 1.6). We completed two investigations into compliance with the online content rules restricting gambling advertising during sporting events. Both investigations resulted in breach findings and the ACMA issued two remedial directions.

Table 1.6 Investigations into commercial, national, subscription, narrowcasting, and community broadcasters, 2019–20

2019–20

Total investigations completed

50

Investigations resulting in breach findings

20

Investigations of compliance with codes of practice

11

Investigations of compliance with BSA, licence conditions or standards

9

Investigations resulting in non-breach findings

30

Investigations of compliance with codes of practice

16

Investigations of compliance with the BSA, licence conditions or standards

14

Actions for breach findings

Publication of investigation reports

15

Enforceable undertakings

1

Investigations completed within four months

25

Investigations completed within benchmark timeframe of six months

48*

Average time for investigations

3.9 months

* Two investigations exceeded the benchmark timeframe of six months due to the complexity of the matters concerned.

Unsolicited communications (telemarketing and spam) and the DNCR

In 2019–20, we undertook 21 investigations under the Telecommunications Act into compliance with the Spam Act 2003 (Spam Act), the Do Not Call Register Act 2006 (DNCR Act) and the Telecommunications (Telemarketing and Research Calls) Industry Standard 2017 (see Table 1.7). Thirteen of these investigations targeted compliance priority areas—12 into solar telemarketing and one into lead generation matters.

Outcomes from these 21 investigations included the payment of eight infringement notices totalling $1,767,300. These included:

  • Woolworths Group Limited paid an infringement notice of $1,003,800 for sending email marketing messages to consumers after they had unsubscribed. We also accepted a three-year court-enforceable undertaking
  • Singtel Optus Pty Limited paid an infringement notice of $504,000 for sending SMS and email marketing messages to consumers after they had unsubscribed. We also accepted a three-year court-enforceable undertaking
  • Oneflare Pty Ltd paid an infringement notice of $75,600 for sending commercial SMS messages without consent. We also accepted a two-year court-enforceable undertaking
  • Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific Pty Ltd paid an infringement notice of $159,600 for telemarketing calls made to numbers on the DNCR without consent and failing to terminate calls when required.

We also issued a total of seven formal warnings and, in total, accepted eight court-enforceable undertakings.

Table 1.7 Investigations into unsolicited communications 2019–20

2019–20

Total investigations completed

21

Investigations into Spam Act compliance

3

Investigations into DNCR Act and related industry standards compliance

18

Total investigations with a breach finding

16

Actions for breach findings

Formal warnings

7

Enforceable undertakings

8

Infringement notices

9

Ongoing proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia

1

Investigations completed within four months

11

Investigations completed within benchmark timeframe of six months

18*

Average time for investigations

3.9 months

* Three investigations (one spam investigation and two telemarketing investigations) exceeded the benchmark timeframe of six months due to the complexity of the matters concerned. Each involved multiple rounds of information gathering relating to large data sets.

Note: All unsolicited communications investigations are under Part 26 of the Telecommunications Act.

Case study: Reducing unlawful solar telemarketing

Unlawful solar telemarketing was first identified as an ACMA compliance priority in the 2017–18 financial year. At the time, complaints regarding solar telemarketing were second only to scams in terms of numbers and consumer dissatisfaction. Due to these high complaint numbers and the impact of the activity on Australians, solar telemarketing remained a priority in 2018–19 and 2019–20, when it was included in the inaugural agency-wide compliance priorities.

Our campaign to affect change and reduce both the incidence of harm and the rate of
non-compliance over this period involved a robust suite of proactive and reactive activities, including:

  • 18 investigations into solar businesses
  • $54,600 in penalties paid, five formal warnings, four enforceable undertakings, and action against two businesses in the Federal Court (ongoing)
  • 1,240 compliance alerts issued to 285 solar or related businesses identifying potential compliance issues and reminding them of their obligations. This provides business with an early opportunity to rectify their practices
  • comprehensive industry engagement and education activities to encourage compliance.

This campaign has been successful, with a 54 per cent reduction in the number of complaints received about solar telemarketing since the start of the 2017–18 reporting period. Tellingly, complaints have stopped for 79 per cent of businesses we have engaged with, either as part of an investigation or by putting them on notice about our compliance priority and their obligations.

Integrated Public Number Database (IPND)

The IPND is a secure database of approximately 71 million connected numbers and associated customer information. It is a critical source of information for emergency services, law enforcement and national security agencies, leading to public health and safety impacts if the data in the IPND is incorrect.

In 2019–20, we finalised 16 investigations into carriage service provider (CSP) compliance with IPND obligations under the Telecommunications Act and the Industry Code 555:2020 Integrated Public Number Database (the IPND industry code). These built on the investigations into 11 CSPs undertaken in the previous reporting period. These investigations resulted in a total of 30 breach findings (15 breaches of the Telecommunications Act and 15 breaches of the IPND industry code). Identifying these breaches will enable CSPs to correct their actions, resulting in the overall quality of the IPND being improved and an increased awareness of IPND obligations.

The ACMA administers the Telecommunications Integrated Public Number Database Scheme 2017 (IPND Scheme). Under the IPND Scheme, the ACMA can authorise entities to use IPND data to publish public number directories or conduct permitted research related to public health, electoral matters, or development of Commonwealth public policy.

In 2019–20, we made breach findings against a public number directory publisher after it published a customer’s unlisted (or ‘silent’) telephone number and issued the publisher a formal warning highlighting the importance of compliance with IPND access rules, especially where an individual’s privacy might be impacted. In March 2020, we also granted an authorisation under the IPND Scheme to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to access the IPND for permitted research.

Contractual service levels for DNCR are met

Now in its fourteenth year, the DNCR is operated under contract by IVE Group Australia Pty Ltd (IVE Group). Consumers can register, check or remove their numbers and industry can access the number-checking (washing) service and their accounts.

On 25 November 2019, the previous DNCR operator Salmat Digital Pty Ltd (Salmat) notified ACMA of the sale of Salmat to IVE Group. Following notification of sale of Salmat to IVE Group, we undertook due diligence and negotiation with parties around its consent to novation of the contract. The DNCR contract was novated to IVE Group on 12 February 2020.

During 2019–20, Salmat and IVE Group met the key performance indicators (KPIs) required in the contract, as shown in Table 1.8.

Table 1.8 KPIs for operation of the DNCR by Salmat Digital Pty Ltd and IVE Group Australia Pty Ltd

KPI

Target

Result

Service centre availability

99.5%

100%

Automated registration service availability

99.5%

99.9%

Washing service availability

99.5%

99.9%

Washing service timeliness—completed within 60 seconds

97.0%

98.3%

Complaints and enquiries—Level 1 closed within 24 hours*

99.0%

99.8%

Website availability

99.5%

99.9%

*Level 1 complaints and enquiries relate to matters for which there are documented processes or procedures that can be resolved by a customer service officer.

Efficient and effective delivery of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund grants

The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is a competitive grants program to support regional and small publishers to transition to, and compete more successfully in, the evolving media environment. The ACMA administers the fund, which is in its second year of operation.

In the reporting year, 17 Round 1 grant projects were completed, five continued and a total $3.0 million (GST exclusive) was paid to grantees.

During the year, we completed an independent review of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, undertaken after Round 1.

In late 2018–19, a second round of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was released. The Regional Grant Opportunity (RGO) targeted regional publishers of public interest journalism in recognition that regional publishers face specific challenges in comparison to metropolitan publishers. In this round, up to $12.4 million was available to be issued in grants. The RGO application period was open from 5 April – 14 June 2019 and 113 applications were received. The ACMA awarded a total of $9.1 million in grants to 62 applicants. Three grants were later withdrawn at the request of the grantee during grant agreement negotiations, resulting in 59 agreements worth $8.8 million being executed.

When compared to Round 1, this was an increase of 31 grantees and an additional $5.0 million in grants executed.

Almost three-quarters of grant agreements (43 out of 59) were executed by 29 February 2020 and the final agreement was executed on 11 May 2020. $3.6 million (GST exclusive) was distributed to RGO grantees in 2019–20.

In April 2020, the third round of the fund (the 2020 Round) was opened for applications, having been brought forward to support public interest journalism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications were open to regional and small metropolitan applicants. A total of $5 million is available for the 2020 Round, with a maximum of $400,000 per applicant. Successful applicants are expected to be announced in July 2020.

The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund will not continue after the 2020 Round. Unspent money from the fund has been transferred to the Public Interest News Gathering Fund, which will be administered by the Department. The ACMA will continue to administer all grants issued under the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund until their completion.

Grant details are included in ‘Appendix 7: Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund’.

1.3 Build consumer, audience and industry understanding of risks, rights, responsibilities and safeguards

Providing accessible, timely and relevant information to help our stakeholders navigate the rapidly changing communications and media environment is increasingly important.

Our effectiveness in informing consumers and industry—particularly about new rules and emerging risks—is enhanced by our use of different communication avenues and channels, including our website, social media, workshops and conferences.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 16

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 103

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Information is made available to consumers and audiences about their rights and available safeguards

Information is made available to businesses about their responsibilities

Confident use and responsible provision of communications and media services

Targets:

Accessible and timely information is available about:

  • rights of consumers and audiences
  • safeguards available to consumers and audiences
  • responsibilities of businesses

Investigation and enforcement outcomes are transparent

Information is made available to consumers and audiences about their rights and available safeguards. Information is made available to businesses about their responsibilities
Refreshed ACMA website

In a significant step to increase the accessibility of our information, in 2019–20 we refreshed the acma.gov.au website. With the aim of transforming the old ACMA website to a new user-centred resource, the refresh focused on making information on the site easier to find, understand and use for consumers, businesses and citizens.

Guiding this approach was the Digital Service Standard and the Service Design and Delivery process, as set by the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency. To maximise accessibility, the new website is also more compatible with a wide range of web browsers and mobile devices.

The initial beta site went live in July 2019 and the final site launched on 30 October 2019. The updated site has allowed us to deliver our services more easily and quickly, and in a manner consistent with the government’s digital transformation strategy.

Stakeholder engagement online

In addition to providing information on our website, we continued to use a range of social media and other digital channels to engage with consumers and industry. In 2019–20, we sent 199 e-bulletins to our 19,705 subscribers and engaged with stakeholders on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn via 945 posts.

We increased our list of e-bulletins in 2019–20 and now offer:

  • Engage—monthly consumer-focused updates on ACMA activities
  • Telco matters—telecommunications industry updates and regulatory issues
  • compliance and labelling supplier updates
  • unsolicited communications compliance updates for e-marketers and telemarketers
  • spectrum management and RadComms conference updates
  • Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund updates
  • graduate program updates
  • amateur radio updates.

During the reporting period, we published a range of reports, including investigation and enforcement outcomes, including:

  • ACMA investigation into coverage of the Christchurch terrorist attack, July 2019
  • NBN Wi-Fi modem study, July 2019
  • Telecommunications complaints-handling 2018–19 report, October 2019
  • Mobile-only Australia: living without a fixed line at home interactive report, October 2019
  • Combating scams—Action plan summary report, November 2019
  • Kids and mobiles: how Australian children are using mobile phones interactive report, November 2019
  • Gambling advertising in Australia: Consumer and advertising placement research report, November 2019
  • Australians and news—impartiality and commercial influence, January 2020
  • Communications report 2018–19, February 2020
  • The future delivery of radio report, March 2020
  • Impacts of the 2019–20 bushfires on the telecommunications network, April 2020.

Our refreshed website enabled these reports to be easily accessible to users.

In recognition of the vital importance of communications and media services during the COVID-19 pandemic, we released information on our website and via social media about how to stay safely connected during this time. Topics included:

  • dealing with telcos during the pandemic
  • receiving financial hardship help from a telco
  • ensuring the reliability of Triple Zero and priority assistance
  • increasing awareness of rules about the accuracy of broadcast news
  • recognising false coronavirus information online, including COVID-19 scams
  • reducing the risks of online gambling.

We also published information on our website for the communications and media sectors about their responsibilities. This included:

  • postponed or extended consultation periods for reviews
  • delayed enforcement of new obligations until 1 January 2021
  • exercising forbearance by not taking enforcement action for non-compliance with specific provisions of the TCP Code, as long as the relevant telco provider met alternative commitments
  • exercising forbearance to commercial television broadcasters with their annual quota obligations
  • provision of temporary relief to subscription television broadcasting on their minimum levels of expenditure on new eligible drama programs
  • providing regional commercial radio broadcasters with compliance reporting relief
  • providing temporary relief to regional commercial radio broadcasters for local news, weather bulletin and community announcements quotas.

Please see ‘Effective and efficient licence administration and allocation arrangements’ for information about the deferral of licence fees.

Transparent investigation and enforcement outcomes

Each quarter we published enforcement actions, investigation outcomes, complaint data and trends and compliance contacts in relation to telecommunications, broadcasting, spam and telemarketing businesses.

Interactive gambling consumer awareness campaign

During August and September 2019, we ran our first consumer awareness-raising campaign to educate Australians about which interactive gambling services are provided legally and the risks in using offshore services. The second and third campaigns ran from December 2019 to February 2020 and April to June 2020 respectively, and aimed to reduce the use of illegal services, and the resulting harm they cause. The campaigns included digital display advertising, a Google search component, and mobile ads. A campaign toolkit including digital advertising material was distributed to associated federal, state and territory stakeholders for their information and use. This was of particular importance during the COVID-19 pandemic, when online searches for gambling websites reportedly increased significantly following nation-wide closures of pubs, clubs and legal casinos.

Combating scams

Scam activity on telco networks has a significant social and economic impact on Australians, with the scale and effect of the activity increasing. ACMA consumer research confirms it is a significant problem and people expect more to be done by industry and government.

In response to the problem and a request from the then Minister for Communications and the Arts, we established the cross-agency Scam Technology Project with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to explore ways to reduce scam activity—refer to case study for further information.

In addition to the Scam Technology Project, in April 2020 we implemented a new industry standard that mandates stronger identity verification processes before mobile numbers can be ported from one telecommunication provider to another. This industry standard was implemented in response to mobile number porting fraud scams. It aims to prevent fraudulent number porting to stop identity theft that enables scammers to illegitimately access bank accounts, personal information and other consumer service accounts.
During the year, alerts were issued for the following scams:

  • Apple/iPhone 11: 9 October 2019
  • ATO: 1 November 2019
  • Bushfire appeal: 6 January 2020
  • Amazon impersonation: 3 February 2020
  • ATO SMS impersonation: 16 February 2020
  • Online gambling SMS: 17 March 2020
  • COVID-19: 16 March and 22 March 2020.
Case study: Combating telco scams

In 2019–20, the ACMA took forward several initiatives to further protect consumers from scams perpetrated over telecommunications networks.

In response to the Scam Technology Project findings, the ACMA developed a three-point action plan to form a joint government–industry taskforce, develop new enforceable obligations and immediately trial new scam reduction initiatives.

Action 1: Establish a taskforce to provide government and industry coordination and oversight of telecommunications scam minimisation strategies

In February 2020, we convened the first meeting of the Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce. Representatives from government and law enforcement agencies and the telco and financial services industries attended to discuss scam reduction strategies and progress of the action plan implementation. The taskforce met again on 23 June 2020.

Action 2: Develop a range of enforceable obligations for telco providers to protect their customers from scams by Quarter 2 2020

In March 2020, Communications Alliance, the telco peak industry body, released for public comment the first industry code in Australia dedicated to reducing scam activity. The draft Reducing Scam Calls industry code proposes enforceable obligations on telcos to identify, trace and block scam calls. These are targeted at reducing scam activity and building consumer and industry confidence in calling line identification. Subject to submittal by industry, we anticipate registration of the code in the next reporting period.

Action 3: Trial industry scam reduction initiatives

The ‘Do Not Originate’ trial, the first of the initiatives to be realised, has significantly reduced the incidence of scammers presenting as legitimate ATO phone numbers.

The code being developed by industry will place obligations on telcos to identify and block high volume and short duration scam calls, which are the key characteristics of a ‘Wangiri’ scam call. The draft code also contains rules to prevent international scam call traffic using Australian numbers from reaching Australian consumers.

The action plan has placed an increased emphasis on scam reduction activities on telco networks, with Telstra Corporation Limited reporting blocking 2.9 million scam calls in July 2019 and 4.5 million in August 2019 alone. While reduction activities are still being developed, the ACCC has reported a 16 per cent decrease in consumer reports about scam calls over the past 12 months.

Strategic priority 2: Spectrum arrangements that benefit all Australians through efficient and effective spectrum management

2.1 Plan the availability of Australia’s radiofrequency spectrum to optimise its value to the Australian community

We provide technical knowledge and expertise to support Australia’s participation in international spectrum management forums, including efforts to harmonise international spectrum. This work
informs future demand and planning for spectrum uses in the Australian market.

A particular focus for our work during 2019–20 was in preparation for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19), which reviewed satellite and terrestrial broadband arrangements, railway communications, intelligent transport systems, satellite network coordination and amateur spectrum use.

During the reporting period, we made planning decisions on the 26 GHz and 28 GHz (millimetre wave) bands to support the deployment of 5G satellite services and on the reallocation of the 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands. We also progressed the reviews of the 2 GHz and 3.7–4.2 GHz bands.

Our annual five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO), with its annual spectrum work program, is developed through a process of stakeholder consultation. This enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of our spectrum planning and allocation by better informing us of the needs and priorities of spectrum users. Publication of the plan also helps to support a more predictable spectrum market.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, pp. 17–8

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 101

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Effectively represent, promote and support Australia’s spectrum interests at international spectrum meetings and through treaty arrangements

Australia’s needs are addressed in international spectrum harmonisation processes

Target:

Australian participation in the International Telecommunication Union World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) and regional spectrum management forums for the WRC-23 cycle are supported

Spectrum planning priorities are transparent and take account of stakeholder input

Planning arrangements enable spectrum to be used for the greatest possible benefit to Australians

Target:

The FYSO and annual work program align with current spectrum uses that will maximise the overall benefits for the Australian community

Access to spectrum is on terms and conditions that encourage its use to be optimised including for Defence

Target:

The annual spectrum work program is informed by stakeholder consultation progress reports on milestones

Effectively represent, promote and support Australia’s spectrum interests at international spectrum meetings and through treaty arrangements

We participated in international radiocommunications forums to promote and protect Australian interests in spectrum management, including spectrum harmonisation and international frequency coordination. This activity is critical to coordinating international activities and sharing information from other jurisdictions on issues of importance to Australia’s spectrum management activities. It informs our domestic planning process, builds strong co-operative relationships and partnerships, promotes and protects Australian interests and supports broader government policies and activities.

We provided technical support to the Department, as the lead agency for Australia, for the ITU World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) in October–November 2019. We provided advice about positions and strategies on, and technical and regulatory content of, agenda items. The WRC is the peak international forum for reviewing and revising the international treaty on the use of spectrum and satellite orbits and the Radio Regulations.

The outcomes of WRC-19 will inform our domestic spectrum management work and will take account of revisions of the ITU Radio Regulations and their impact on global and regional spectrum allocations and regulatory requirements. This includes making a new Australian Radiofrequency Spectrum Plan to ensure that Australian spectrum arrangements take account of changes arising from the ITU WRC-19.

We attended the following meetings during the reporting period:

  • International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) Study Group 4 block meeting: 19 June – 4 July 2019
  • 25th meeting of the AsiaPacific Telecommunity (APT) Wireless Group: 1–5 July 2019
  • 5th meeting of the APT Conference Preparatory Group for WRC-19: 31 July – 6 August 2019
  • ITU WRC-19: 28 October – 22 November 2019
  • 1st Conference Preparatory Meeting for WRC-23: 25–29 November 2019
  • ITU-R Study Group 4 Working Parties meeting: 28–29 May 2020
  • ITU-R Working Party 5D meeting: 23 June – 9 July 2020.

The 26th meeting of the APT Wireless Group, and ITU-R and APT meetings, including the first meeting of the APG for the WRC-23 cycle were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some subsequent meetings converted to e-meetings.

Case study: International spectrum cooperation at WRC-19

The WRC is hosted by the ITU, a United Nations agency made up of 193 member states. The ITU’s focus is international cooperation in the use of telecommunications and radio frequency spectrum. The Australian Government is a signatory to the ITU constitution and convention treaty and maintains overall policy responsibility for Australia’s ITU membership and involvement.

In collaboration with the Department, which heads Australia’s delegation, we actively participate in the work of the ITU to develop regulatory arrangements for radiocommunications that are in Australia’s national interest.

Six ACMA staff were among the 3,000 participants representing 160 ITU member states, that attended the WRC-19, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 28 October – 22 November.

The agenda for WRC-19 included important considerations of spectrum and/or regulatory arrangements for millimetre wave 5G services, satellite earth stations in motion (ESIM), high altitude platform stations (HAPS), intelligent transport systems (ITS), small satellites and expanded wi-fi services.

In the lead-up to WRC-19, Australian stakeholders from both government and industry spent nearly four years participating in several international and regional meetings, including key meetings of the ITU-R and APT. These meetings served to develop technical and regulatory material in preparation for WRC-19, and, ultimately, Australia’s preliminary views on the 33 agenda items being considered at the conference.

The work carried out both in preparation for and at this conference is imperative and will form the basis of international allocation revisions of the ACMA’s spectrum plan for the next four years.

Spectrum planning priorities are transparent and take account of stakeholder input

Each year, we consult on our spectrum work program priorities through the development of our five-year spectrum outlook (FYSO). The FYSO provides an overview of the technology, market and policy drivers likely to shape the demand for spectrum over the next five years. It also sets out our work plan for the following year for band planning and optimisation, spectrum allocations, and ongoing improvements to spectrum management. Stakeholders are provided with the opportunity to make submissions on the draft FYSO and annual work program. All submissions are considered to ensure that the final FYSO and annual work program aligns with current spectrum uses. A detailed response to submissions is published alongside the final FYSO and annual spectrum work program.

During the year, we also engaged with stakeholders at key stages of the individual projects identified in the annual spectrum work program.

FYSO 2019–23

In September 2019, we published the FYSO 2019–23, which looks at how technology and trends will affect the need for spectrum over the next few years, outlines our plans for meeting demand for 5G and examines ways we can improve our management of Australia’s spectrum.

We received 43 submissions for the draft FYSO 2019–23. Stakeholders included members of industry, industry representatives and peak bodies, government agencies and members of the public.

FYSO 2020–24

In April 2020, we published the draft FYSO 2020–24 for consultation, including:

  • revising and updating our forward allocation plan
  • planning for private long-term evolution networks
  • exploring new bands for monitoring
  • setting out a detailed work plan for the coming year, including our program of upcoming spectrum auctions.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the industry sectors using spectrum, we provided a longer consultation period of eight weeks, closing at the end of June 2020. Submissions will inform the final FYSO 2020–24, which will be published in the next reporting period.

2.2 Allocate and licence access to the radiofrequency spectrum, using both administrative and market-based methods, ensuring adequate provision for defence, public safety and community purposes

Timely access to spectrum is of increasing importance to support wireless and satellite communications services in an innovative and dynamic economy. We continue to progress the allocation processes for several spectrum bands, while maintaining highly consultative planning processes for major allocations, to ensure efficient allocation and use of spectrum.

We issued technology-flexible spectrum licences for the 3.6 GHz band, allowing winning bidders from the 2018–19 auction process to determine how and when to deploy 5G services.

We updated several licence area plans to enable new radio services or improved coverage of existing services, including conversions from AM to FM of some commercial services in regional Australia. We continued to meet our timeliness benchmarks for licence administration.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 18–9

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 101

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Effective and efficient preparation and delivery of major spectrum band allocations

Access to spectrum is on terms and conditions that encourage its use to be optimised including for Defence, public safety and community uses

Target:

The annual spectrum work program is informed by stakeholder consultation and progress reports on milestones

Access to spectrum is managed efficiently

Target:

Licence administration and allocation arrangements are efficient and meet published performance indicators

Rights to access spectrum are developed and revised according to user needs

Spectrum pricing promotes efficient use by being transparent and taking account of market developments

Effective and efficient international satellite coordination services

Effective and efficient licence administration and allocation arrangements

Effective and efficient preparation and delivery of major spectrum band allocations

As discussed above, we developed and published a forward allocation work plan in the FYSO 2019–23. The plan takes into consideration stakeholder feedback and provides information about the planning status, timing and sequencing of major spectrum allocations to better
support strategic network planning by spectrum users, technology deployment planning and capital-raising.

We published two progress reports during the year to ensure stakeholders had access to current information on the status of each our activities. These were the FYSO 2018–22 annual progress report published in August 2019 and the FYSO 2019–23 six-monthly progress report for
July–December 2019, published in February 2020.

Key work plan activities and milestones met during the year included:

  • consulting on the possible future uses of the 2 GHz band. We received 18 submissions from various industry sectors including satellite providers, mobile and fixed broadband providers, free-to-air and subscription television, video production companies and equipment manufacturers
  • consulting on the planning arrangements for the 3.7–4.2 GHz band and the potential new uses of the band for wireless broadband, noting its current fixed satellite and point-to-point use. We received 23 submissions from satellite service providers, mobile and fixed broadband providers, government agencies and equipment manufacturers
  • commencing preparations for an auction in 2021 of spectrum licences in the 26 GHz band, the first of the millimetre wave 5G bands to be allocated in Australia
  • concluding the review of the 28 GHz band. Stakeholders were informed of the outcomes of this review through the release of a paper with our planning decisions and preliminary views on the associated licensing and technical conditions that will subsequently be developed
  • commencing consultation on a proposal to recommend that the Minister make one or more reallocation declarations for the 850/900 MHz band. This recommendation would allow allocation of spectrum licences in the band, which could be used for 4G and 5G mobile broadband services
  • further optimising arrangements across the entire 3.4–3.575 GHz band to support more of the band for spectrum licensing, including an allocation of 25 MHz of spectrum in major regional centres and 42.5 MHz in regional areas for wireless broadband use.
Rights to access spectrum are developed and revised according to user needs
Exemptions and licensing for agencies involved in safety and security

In May 2020, we commenced consultation on a review of the radiocommunications prohibitions and exemptions framework. The exemption element of this regime facilitates a range of safety, security, law enforcement and defence outcomes that can only be achieved using devices that would otherwise be prohibited. We are also consulting on a specific exemption for state and territory law enforcement that would enable use of counterdrone capability.

Viewer Access Satellite Television service

The Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service provides an alternative reception option for viewers unable to receive adequate digital television services from terrestrial transmission sites.

In the reporting period, we:

  • received and considered 231 complaints about permission to access services on VAST
  • issued 112 directions to the scheme administrator to grant VAST access to the complainants.
Satellite-delivered telecommunications

There is continuing growth and innovation in the provision of satellite-delivered telecommunications and space science services. There is corresponding pressure both internationally and domestically to ensure that regulatory arrangements support these developments. This can result in the establishment of new spectrum access arrangements and the refinement of existing ones. In this changing environment, we continue to engage internationally on the coordination, development and implementation of measures to enhance spectrum usage for satellite communications and space research services.

To support the introduction of new satellite services into Australia, we consulted on a range of proposals to improve spectrum access and pricing arrangements for satellite services. In February 2020, the ACMA made decisions that improved spectrum access and pricing arrangements for satellite services, including:

  • making an extra 2.6 GHz of spectrum available
  • decreasing licence taxes to the minimum amount for space licences in 10.7–11.7 GHz, 18.2–18.8 GHz and 19.3–19.7 GHz.

In January 2020, we varied the Radiocommunications (Foreign Space Objects) Determination 2014 to include Kepler Communications (Canada), SpaceX Services (US) and Swarm Technologies (US) in Schedule 1 of the Determination. Inclusion in the Determination is the legal mechanism that allows operators of foreign satellites wanting to provide communications services such as satellite phone, satellite IoT and satellite data services to Australian consumers to be subject to Australian legislation for licensing and interference management purposes. A licence to operate must be applied for separately.

In December 2019, we released a discussion paper to initiate a review of licensing procedures for space-based communications. Proposed changes were intended to ensure a consistent approach to procedures for the submission and processing of space, space receive, earth and earth receive licences. Twelve submissions were received and are currently being considered.

Area-wide apparatus licence (AWL) types

In February 2020, we outlined our approach to implementing AWL types in bands. The development of AWL types was in response to changes in technology and requests from spectrum users for additional flexibility within the apparatus licensing system. The AWL type includes:

  • the ‘area-wide’ type for transmitter licences
  • the ‘area-wide receive’ type for receiver licences.

The AWLs will allow licensees to run several radiocommunications devices at a specified frequency or frequencies within a geographic area. The characteristics of the AWL type make it well-suited for a range of uses and users.

Spectrum licence technical framework review

In 2019–20, we commenced the spectrum licence technical framework review to examine the arrangements in bands below 6 GHz. A review of these arrangements will ensure they are efficient and can cater for new technology such as 5G and active antenna systems (AAS) and update unwanted (or out-of-band) emissions, device boundary criteria and maximum power levels.

The bands we will review are:

  • 700 MHz
  • 800 MHz
  • 1800 MHz
  • 2 GHz
  • 2.3 GHz
  • 2.6 GHz
  • 3.4 GHz.

In February 2020, we released a consultation paper on the 3.4 GHz spectrum licence technical framework, reviewing the unwanted emission boundary. We proposed to change the frequency ranges to which the unwanted emission limits apply for registered devices in the 3.4 GHz band to align with international standards. Following consultation, we implemented the proposed changes.

Spectrum sharing

Spectrum sharing is an essential component of effective spectrum management and a key tool in maximising the benefits that can be derived from the radiofrequency spectrum. It allows spectrum uses and users to coexist and operate with their unique services and use cases. Coexistence of spectrum users is the primary objective of sharing and contributes to expanding the overall utility of the spectrum resource.

Internationally, there have been numerous developments in the non-traditional, dynamic spectrum sharing space, with evolving technologies and regulatory arrangements being developed to improve the overall efficiency of spectrum.

In August 2019, we released an information paper, Spectrum sharing—overview and new approaches, and held an industry tune-up event.

We considered issues raised at the tune up and industry submissions and in May 2020 released an information paper, New approaches to spectrum sharing—next steps, indicating our ongoing support for industry-led trials of non-traditional spectrum-sharing arrangements such as Dynamic Spectrum Access arrangements.

Spectrum pricing promotes efficient use by being transparent and taking account of market developments
Apparatus licence taxes

We consulted on various changes to apparatus licence taxes in December 2020. As a result of those consultations, in February 2020 we increased apparatus licence taxes by 1.6 per cent in line with movements in the consumer price index. These were increased to preserve the value of licence taxes—and therefore the incentives toward efficient use of spectrum—against erosion by inflation.

At the same time, we introduced new lower taxes associated with satellite services to complement new licensing arrangements in the Radiocommunications (Communication with Space Object) Class Licence 2015 that will allow for the use of uncoordinated, unprotected earth station receivers. For the applicable spectrum bands, the minimum annual tax will apply.

We also extended the frequency range to which taxes apply for Public Mobile Telecommunications Service (PMTS) Class B licences in the 3.5 GHz band to include the
3425–3475 MHz range. This will support our efforts to defragment the 3400-3575 MHz band.

Changes in apparatus licence taxes came into effect on 5 April 2020.

Following a Ministerial Direction concerning new funding arrangements for EME research, in May 2020 we reduced most apparatus licence taxes by 0.8 per cent. This change in taxes will come into effect at the beginning of the next reporting period. We noted the initiative in the draft FYSO 2020–24.

We updated the ACMA’s Apparatus Licence Fee Schedule with all new apparatus licence tax rates.

Commercial broadcasting taxes

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the publication of a paper about the Commercial Broadcasting Tax Review was delayed. As announced in the draft FYSO 2020–24, the scope of the review is being considered and we expect to make announcements early in the next reporting period.

In April 2020, the Minister announced a 12-month waiver of spectrum tax for commercial television and radio broadcasters.

Spectrum pricing review

Spectrum pricing, along with licensing, planning and technical regulation, is a way to manage spectrum for the benefit of all Australians. In February 2018, the final report of the review of spectrum pricing was published. A key recommendation was that we should publish guidelines on how we approach our spectrum pricing decisions and review the apparatus licence taxation arrangements.

In March 2020, we commenced a consultation process focusing on the implementation of three of the 11 recommendations of the spectrum pricing review that were matters for the ACMA to implement. The consultation offered the opportunity to comment on the proposed spectrum pricing guidelines and focus areas for our work program. Other recommendations from the spectrum pricing review required changes of primary legislation or were matters for government. However, we consider that we can implement the intent of many of the recommendations under current legislation.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the radiocommunications sector, we extended the consultation period to 30 June 2020 to provide sufficient time for responses. A final work plan for the implementation of the spectrum pricing review will begin following analysis of submissions.

Effective and efficient international satellite coordination services

The ACMA represents Australian satellite operators in the ITU’s international process for managing satellite communication frequencies and ensures that Australia meets its satellite coordination obligations as a member state of the ITU. We managed the international satellite coordination services effectively and efficiently through:

  • assessing 508 ITU publications (information published by the ITU on new and modified satellite systems) for proposed foreign satellite networks for compatibility with Australian services
  • requesting further coordination (where necessary) with foreign administrations
  • responding to requests from foreign administrations regarding coordination with Australian services.
Effective and efficient licence administration and allocation arrangements

During 2019–20, we allocated and renewed the following licences:

  • radiocommunications licences, including apparatus, spectrum and class licences
  • broadcasting licences, including temporary community broadcasting, community radio broadcasting, and commercial and community television licences
  • telecommunications licences, including carrier licences and nominated carrier declarations.

We met our timeliness benchmarks with 90 per cent of licencing work completed within 90 days. A breakdown of the licensing related work is as follows:

  • allocated–13,082
  • varied–2,969
  • renewed–153,933.

This includes apparatus licences to enable early access to the 3.6 GHz band allocated for spectrum licences in 2018–19. There continues to be strong stakeholder (mobile carrier) interest in such licences, which are sought to expedite 5G commercial roll-out in the 3.6 GHz band.

Bushfire and COVID-19 affected licensees—deferral of fees

We facilitated the continuance of broadcasting services in the Batemans Bay/Moruya areas by varying the licences and operating conditions of four ABC FM radio services and of all commercial and national television services in the area after transmission facilities were damaged by bushfires.

To assist licensees affected by bushfires, we provided the option to defer payment for licence renewals. Eligible licensees who could not pay by the due date because they didn’t receive their renewal notice or were financially unable to, were given an additional three months to pay their licence fees. The three-month deferral period commenced from the expiry of a current licence.

A further deferral of licence fees was offered to licensees whose business or personal circumstances were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Licensees could defer their renewal fees by up to 12 months from the expiry of their licence or pay by instalments.

We received 161 enquiries and 75 applications for either deferral or instalment of licence fee payments. Of these, 60 applications were approved. Fifteen applications were not approved because either the applicant paid the fee before a deferral could be granted or the circumstances were outside of the policy.

For licensees affected by the bushfires, we also offered additional assistance by:

  • identifying their licence number
  • updating their licence details
  • printing and sending a copy of a licence to the licensee.

A partial refund was also provided to licensees for the 2020 Formula 1 Grand Prix due to the cancellation of the event. The event involved in excess of 700 licence assignments.

Spectrum for low-powered open narrowcasting (LPON) services

We continued to make spectrum available for LPON services, conducting three LPON auctions during the reporting period. The auctions resulted in the allocation of 36 licences across Australia, valued at $17,473.

AM to FM conversion

We facilitated the conversion of six regional commercial radio services from AM to FM transmission (see Table 1.9). FM radio provides improved audio quality for listeners in regional areas and can be more cost-effective to operate than AM radio.

Table 1.9 AM to FM conversions in 2019–20

Licence area

Radio service

Timing of variation to the licence area plan

Murray Bridge

5MU

September 2019

Port Lincoln

5CC

September 2019

Riverland

5RM

September 2019

Spencer Gulf North

5AU

September 2019

Armidale

2AD

January 2020

Nowra

2ST

May 2020

Improving coverage of radio services

We changed the technical specifications for 19 regional commercial and community radio services to increase the reach of their service (see Table 1.10).

Table 1.10 Radio coverage improvements in 2019–20

Licence area

Radio service

Timing of variation to the licence area plan

Kingaroy

4SB

September 2019

Murray Bridge

5MU and 5EZY

September 2019

Palm Island

4PIB

September 2019

Port Lincoln

5CC and 5CCC

September 2019

Riverland

5RIV, 5RM and 5LFM

September 2019

Spencer Gulf North

5AU and 5AUU

September 2019

Townsville

4TSV, 4TOO, 4RGT and 4RGR

September 2019

Wondai

4CSB

September 2019

Armidale

2AD

January 2020

Nowra

2ST and 2UUU

May 2020

Other improvements we made included:

  • creating a new licence area, Mount Barker RA1 in September 2019, to facilitate a new community radio broadcasting service
  • removing technical specifications for unallocated open narrowcasting transmitters from the Emerald licence area plan in September 2019 to enable spectrum for future planning
  • deeming the Hobart RA3 community radio licence area to be the same as the Hobart RA1 commercial radio licence area for the purpose of digital radio in November 2019.

In addition to the above improvements, we published The future delivery of radio report in March 2020 (see case study below). This report was informed by wide consultation and identifies the ACMA’s priorities for the future delivery of radio.

Amateur radio

The ACMA supports amateur radio through spectrum planning and radiocommunications licensing arrangements which allow amateur access to certain frequency bands while balancing other demands for spectrum.

The ACMA has an arrangement with the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College (AMC) to provide amateur radio examination and call sign allocation services. As part of this arrangement, we delegate certain functions to the AMC.

The AMC is responsible for:

  • conducting amateur radio operator exams
  • working with authorised amateur radio assessors who supervise exams
  • issuing certificates of proficiency that certify qualifications
  • managing the allocation of call signs and recommending that the ACMA allocate a nominated callsign to an amateur who has obtained a qualification
  • maintaining a register for publicly available call signs.
Amateur radio operator syllabus review

In March 2020, we consulted on draft changes to the Amateur Operator’s Certificate of Proficiency Foundation Syllabus. These changes were discussed by the Syllabus Review Panel, which is made up of representatives of the ACMA, the AMC and the amateur radio user community.

The review of amateur and outpost licensing is progressing and scheduled for completion in the next reporting period.

Broadcasting licensing

In 2019–20, we:

  • issued 22 transmitter licences for commercial radio and television services
  • issued 27 broadcasting retransmission licences
  • varied seven radio and television apparatus licences
  • issued 72 special-event broadcasting licences for radio and television services.

In measuring our performance against our KPIs for the allocation of apparatus licences, broadcasting apparatus licences are counted with other radiocommunications apparatus licences.

Commercial radio broadcasting licences

During 2019–20, we renewed 31 commercial radio broadcasting licences for services using the broadcasting services bands (BSB). No new commercial radio broadcasting licences were allocated for services using the BSB.

As of 30 June 2020, there were 275 commercial radio broadcasting licences.

Commercial television broadcasting licences

During 2019–20, we renewed 11 commercial television broadcasting licences. As of 30 June 2020, there were 69 commercial television broadcasting licences.

Community radio broadcasting licences

During the reporting period, we approved 31 applications to renew community radio broadcasting licences and rejected one. We issued 15 informal advice letters following renewal assessments on ways to better satisfy the matters specified in legislation.

In October 2019, we advertised for applications for a long-term community radio broadcasting licence in Mount Barker RA1. The assessment of Mount Barker RA1 applications is ongoing as at 30 June 2020.

During the reporting period, we also approved applications for the transfer of six community radio broadcasting licences from a Council to a Remote Indigenous Media Organisation (RIMO). As at 30 June 2020, there were 358 community radio broadcasting licences, 68 of which were remote Indigenous broadcasting services.

Temporary community broadcasting licences

Temporary community broadcasting licences are allocated for up to 12 months. Subsequent licences may be allocated on application. During 2019–20, we allocated 92 temporary licences.

Community television (CTV) broadcasting licences

There were five CTV broadcasting licences at 30 June 2020—four remote Indigenous broadcasting services and one metropolitan service in Melbourne. There was also one CTV trial service licenced in Adelaide. The CTV trial licence in Perth expired on 30 June 2020.

On 29 June, the Minister made a determination and a direction that had the effect of providing a further 12 months of broadcasting to both the Melbourne CTV broadcasting service and the Adelaide CTV trial service. We extended the CTV trial in Adelaide to 30 June 2021.

Case study: The future delivery of radio project

We continued to investigate if there need to be any changes to support radio services into the future. We found that live radio across different platforms is important to Australians, especially during emergency situations, such as the 2019–20 bushfires. We also determined that a mix of platforms is crucial to bringing radio to listeners.

In March 2020, we published The future delivery of radio report. The report was informed by wide consultation—through industry forums, public consultation and direct meetings—and research. It provides an ongoing transition path for the radio industry to evolve in response to new technologies and changing audience preferences, with the prioritisation of frequency planning arrangements designed to support radio broadcasters in making the best choices about their future service delivery.

The ACMA priorities outlined in the report include:

  • converting commercial, community and national radio broadcasting services in regional areas from AM to FM where spectrum is readily available
  • improving the coverage of radio broadcasting services where spectrum is readily available
  • arrangements to allow further rollout of digital radio where this is feasible
  • supporting trials of new broadcasting technology.

The findings will be informed by examining a range of technology issues, including:

  • new digital radio technology
  • in-car radio supply chain
  • FM band replanning potential
  • examination of FM spectrum supply-side opportunities.

We will continue developing a strategic priority framework that will enable our broadcast planning resources to be deployed on tasks that will best assist the radio industry through the uncertainty of its technology transition phase.

2.3 Manage the risk of interference and other harms through investigation and other compliance and enforcement activities and education programs

The efficiency and effectiveness of our spectrum management compliance program is enhanced by prioritising and targeting our compliance activities. These are informed by evidence from complaints and audits, and a risk assessment of potential interference and other harms likely to adversely impact the legitimate use of the spectrum and public safety. Our annual review of our compliance priorities helps us to track any new or emerging issues.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 19

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 101

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Annual compliance priorities address regulatory needs, are developed within broader compliance program and are widely understood by stakeholders

The ACMA takes compliance and commensurate enforcement action where appropriate

Credible compliance and enforcement supports and underpins the value of spectrum allocation and licensing arrangements

Target:

Annual priority compliance areas are developed, published and acted upon

Address unlawful operation in the 5.6 GHz and 400 MHz bands

Confirm that mobile network operators are unlikely to exceed their electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure obligations

Annual compliance priorities address regulatory needs, are developed within broader compliance program and are widely understood by stakeholders. The ACMA takes compliance and commensurate enforcement action where appropriate

As detailed previously in this APS, our compliance priorities establish key areas of focus for our compliance activities for the year.

In the reporting period, we continued looking into EME compliance for small cell base stations for 4G and 5G, and interference and licensing compliance related to solar inverters and licensing integrity.

Our EME compliance activities included monitoring carriers’ compliance with EME emission standards when installing cell base stations and carriers’ practices in informing and consulting with stakeholders, including the local community, before installing small cell base stations. In October 2019, we published our EME compliance strategy.

In April 2020, we announced our compliance priorities for 2020–21, which include ensuring that mobile base station EME emissions meet Australian standards and investigating interference from unlicensed mobile phone repeaters and in the construction and resources industries.

Our compliance activities were reported on in quarterly web reports.

Interference management

We investigated complaints about interference to radiocommunications services and provided a diagnostic and advisory service in relation to television and radio reception interference (domestic systems interference). Table 1.11 provides a summary of interference complaints received and associated compliance and enforcement actions taken in response.

Table 1.11 Interference complaints and associated compliance and enforcement actions

Action type

Radiocommunications interference

Domestic systems interference

Total interference

Total complaints received

300

180

480

Complaints
received by service
type

Mobile network operator

218

TV

146

Non-mobile network operator

73

EPIRB/public safety

6

Radio

34

Other

3

Total compliance enforcement actions*

77

13

90

Advice notice

24

8

32

Warning notice

53

5

58

*Compliance enforcement actions issued for interference tasks created in the 2019–20 year.

Solar inverters

We completed an audit of solar industry compliance with equipment standards and labelling notices. This compliance priority aimed to mitigate the increased risk of interference to domestic radio and television services arising from the supply of non-compliant solar inverters. Solar inverters were a source of interest, given that the supply of solar panels was expanding in the Australian market, supported by government subsidy schemes for solar installations.

The results indicated that while suppliers have a good understanding of the requirements concerning electrical safety and compatibility, they generally lack awareness around the need for compliance with the EME labelling requirements when the solar inverters were incorporated with a radiocommunications transmitter such as wi-fi, Bluetooth and/or a 3G/4G modem.

We worked with the Clean Energy Council (CEC) to improve the awareness and compliance of its members with the regulatory arrangements. The CEC has helped disseminate updated regulatory information to its members and included EME regulatory information on its website.

Equipment standards and customer cabling

Table 1.12 provides a summary of compliance investigations and actions taken for equipment standards and customer cabling.

Table 1.12 Compliance investigations and enforcement actions in 2019–20

Action type

Number of actions

Total compliance investigation tasks

247

Priority compliance area

97

Proactive identifications of compliance issues in the course of
other duties

25

Customer cabling

45*

Electromagnetic compatibility standards (EMC)

57

Low-power open narrowcasting—‘use it or lose it’ complaints

6

EME standards

3

Other

14

Compliance enforcement actions

65

Advisory notice

8

Warning notice

54

Infringement notice

0

Prosecutions commenced

0

Suspension/cancellation of licence

3

* On review, 33 of these complaints were found to fall outside the jurisdiction of the cabling provider rules.

On review, 34 of these complaints were found to be incomplete or fall outside the jurisdiction of the equipment standard.

On review, 12 of these complaints were found to be incomplete or fall outside the ACMA’s jurisdiction.

Address unlawful operation in the 5.6 GHz and 400 MHz bands
Licensing integrity—interference and licensing compliance

We investigated unlicensed operations and device compliance with regulations and interference rules. We also undertook monitoring, intelligence gathering and site audits of licensees in the 5.6 GHz and 400 MHz bands as part of the compliance priorities for 2019–20. Analysis of the data collected from spectrum monitoring (remote monitoring) is currently underway. This compliance work aimed to determine the level of unlicensed or non-compliant activity in the 5.6 GHz (5.6–5.65 GHz) band in areas around Australia under consideration for expanded point-to-multipoint licensing and the 400 MHz band in Adelaide and Perth. Unlicensed and non-compliant use of a band has potential to undermine the utility of the band through congestion and interference to licensed services.

5.6 GHz

In the previous reporting period, we achieved a clearer understanding of radiocommunications activity in the 5.6 GHz band, particularly in those geographical areas where the ACMA had considered proposals to make the 5.6 GHz spectrum available for wireless internet service providers, where they are currently licensed and operating in the 3.6 GHz band.

The monitoring and in-field intelligence-gathering work was used to inform the program of compliance and enforcement work for 2019–20, including for non-compliant licensees. We investigated one licensee found to be operating between 5.6–5.65 GHz across Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

We identified unlicensed activity occurring in northern New South Wales, however, COVID-19 travel restrictions prevented completion of compliance action in this area before the end of the reporting period. We intend to finalise this work as soon as COVID-19 travel restrictions are relaxed.

400 MHz

We conducted monitoring and analysed data to determine the level of non-compliance in the 400 MHz band in major capital cities. This assessment identified limited instances of licensees continuing to operate after licence expiry or by using imported non-compliant radios, but no evidence of widespread non-compliance in this band. This conclusion is further supported by analysis of all interference complaints that affected services operating in the 400 MHz band, which comprise around three per cent of interference field work.

Confirm that mobile network operators are unlikely to exceed their electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure obligations
Small cell base stations for 4G and 5G and base station compliance

Small cell base stations are being deployed more widely across Australia. At the commencement of our compliance priority, there were only a small number of active 5G small cells in Australia. However, with a more expansive small cell and 5G rollout expected over the next few years, the deployment of small cell base stations is a compliance priority to ensure that community safeguards are met.

There are two main elements of the regulation of small cells under the legislation administered by the ACMA that formed a basis for our compliance assessment:

  • carrier consultation and notification requirements when deploying small cells under the C564:2018 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code (the Deployment Code)
  • carrier compliance with the mandatory standards for EME emissions that are given effect through licence conditions under the Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2015 (the Licence Determination).
Carrier compliance with mandatory standards for EME emissions

Small cell sites are currently used for the delivery of 4G mobile telecommunications and have an important role in providing 5G mobile telecommunications.

We tested small cell carrier deployments by auditing compliance records and undertaking field measurements.

The records audit assessed the mobile carrier’s compliance with their record-keeping obligations under the EME licence conditions. It showed that the mobile carriers were compliant with the EME requirements but lacked awareness of EME and radiocommunications compliance requirements. The audit assessed:

  • 95 Telstra small cells
  • 41 Optus small cells
  • 16 Vodafone small cells.

Our field measurement work reviewed the cumulative EME exposure levels present near a sample of 59 4G small cells nationally. Field measurement work was conducted throughout January and February 2020, when only a small number of 5G small cells had been deployed in Australia. The number of 5G small cells deployed in Australia has since increased and these findings provide baseline results for our continued compliance priority focus on 5G and EME emissions during 2020–21. The field measurement work found that the cumulative EME levels of all the sites visited were well below one per cent of the EME reference level for limits of exposure to the general public set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

Mobile network operators’ notification and consultation requirements

We audited mobile network operators’ consultation and notification requirements set out under the Deployment Code. This compliance activity aimed to determine whether the carriers are complying with their obligations under the Deployment Code, which are intended to:

  • allow the community and local councils to have greater participation in decisions made by carriers when deploying a mobile phone base station
  • provide greater transparency to the public when a carrier is planning, selecting sites for, installing and operating mobile phone base station infrastructure.

The audit assessed:

  • 28 Telstra small cell sites
  • 17 Optus small cell sites
  • one Vodafone small cell site.

The results of the audit indicated that the carriers have established processes and information materials to ensure compliance with the notification and consultation requirements in the Deployment Code. The local community, including councils, property owners and occupiers and those community members in sensitive locations are customarily being notified and consulted prior to the commencement of construction.

Strategic priority 3: A regulatory framework that anticipates change in dynamic communications and media markets through monitoring our environment and influencing regulatory responses

3.1 Conduct qualitative and quantitative research to enhance the ACMA’s understanding of consumers and audiences

Our research program is reviewed annually and developed in consultation with stakeholders so that it addresses relevant issues in our environment and aligns with the ACMA’s broader priorities.

Our research in 2019–20 informed our understanding of market trends, evolving communications and content use, and changes in consumer and community attitudes. It also assisted in identifying the implications of these issues for the effectiveness of our regulation.

We track the effectiveness and efficiency of our existing regulation through reviews and research, leading to improvements in response to changing markets and consumer expectations and preferences, often driven by new technologies.

The effectiveness of our research is reflected through its use in informing our work and enhancing the understanding of our stakeholders about trends and developments in the communications and media sector. We benchmark our efficiency in delivering our research against the timeframes published in our research program.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 20

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, pp. 102–3

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Research the effectiveness and efficiency of existing regulation

The ACMA informs and advises the government and the community about developments in communications markets, including implications for relevant public interest objectives

Target:

Planned program of research is delivered and relevant findings are published, including about the efficiency and effectiveness of existing regulation

Research and develop strategic and regulatory analysis of the evolving communications and media environment

Commission annual telecommunications consumer survey

Prepare annual communications report

Research on the impact of digital platforms on news

Research the effectiveness and efficiency of existing regulation

Our research program focuses on how current and future developments in the communications and media landscape will impact public interest outcomes and our role in regulating communications and media, where research may contribute to:

  • advice to government about the operation and costs of regulation
  • regulatory and program design, including the development of fit for purpose regulatory solutions to emerging issues in communications and media
  • analysis of how regulation is functioning in changing markets to consider if it remains fit for purpose or if there is a need to initiate discussion about regulatory reform to accommodate innovation occurring in the sector
  • exploring different aspects of regulatory effectiveness and the emerging risks and harms arising for citizens and businesses in the changing communications and media environment.

The 2019–20 research program was published in August 2019 following consultation with stakeholders. However, the program was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic where some research was suspended while the media and communications sectors focused on their critical services and other research was delayed due to the reallocation of staff in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Telco consumer experience research

We researched the experience of households and businesses across the full range of telecommunications services in the Australian market to continue to build our evidence-base of emerging risks and harms, and the effectiveness of existing regulations. This consumer research assists with understanding consumer expectations and experience and use of telecommunications (voice and internet) services. The research was largely completed in 2019–20 with the results to be published in the next reporting period.

Australian content options paper

In December 2019, the government released its response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report, which proposed that the ACMA would work with Screen Australia on the development of an options paper for government interventions relating to Australian and children’s screen content. This work forms part of the government’s staged process to reform media regulation towards an end state of a harmonised regulatory framework.

The Supporting Australian stories on our screens—options paper was delivered to the Minister in March 2020. The government published it for an initial two-month consultation period ending on 3 July 2020.

The options paper considered how to best support Australian stories on our screens in a modern, multi-platform environment. It considered the content obligations of free-to-air television broadcasters and examined whether there should be Australian content obligations on subscription video-on-demand services. The paper outlined several options, ranging from keeping the status quo to deregulation.

News—transparency, distinguishability and impartiality

In 2019–20, we conducted three research projects on news in Australia. Work was suspended due to current industry pressures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. These are discussed under ‘Research on the impact of digital platforms on news’.

Research and develop strategic and regulatory analysis of the evolving communications and media environment

Our regulatory futures work program builds agency capability under four key themes:

  • Emerging technologies and regulatory pressure points. These aim to build an integrated evidence base about the markets we regulate, by enabling a contemporary understanding of the efficacy of existing regulatory objectives and the uses and potential impacts of new and evolving technologies on our regulatory framework.
  • Emerging regulatory issues. These aim to build a clear understanding within government of our role in enabling and regulating new technologies, and provide strategic tools to influence government stakeholders on the effectiveness of current regulatory approaches.
  • Best practice regulatory theory, policy, approaches and application.
  • International engagement and collaboration, including our international strategy, forward engagement program and process improvements. These aim to provide a consistent approach to international engagement that maximises benefits for the agency and supports whole-of-government policy objectives.

Projects for 2019–20 were identified under each of these key themes through a needs assessment that considered:

  • internal consultation
  • whole-of-government policy and priorities
  • monitoring of the communications and media market
  • building our capacity for data analysis of regulatory and market developments
  • engaging with stakeholders and government to promote fit for purpose regulatory frameworks
  • improving our regulatory practice.

Over 2019–20, work has progressed to develop occasional papers that examine trends and developments in the communications and media markets and whether the ACMA regulatory settings remain fit for purpose. These papers include:

  • Artificial intelligence technologies in the media and communications sector
  • Internet of Things roadmap
  • Outcomes-based approaches to regulation.

As a result of redeploying staff in response to the COVD-19 pandemic, the release of these occasional papers has been postponed to 2020–21.

Commission annual telecommunications consumer survey

This quantitative research project informs regulatory development by providing an evidence base on consumer behaviour, the adoption of and attitudes towards media and communications services, and the effectiveness of existing regulatory interventions.

It assists in addressing our legislative function to report on the telecommunications industry and consumers of carriage services, service and industry trends in the broadcasting and internet industries, and content services.

Fieldwork for the annual telecommunications survey commenced in June 2020, with results to be published in 2020–21.

Prepare annual communications report

The communications report fulfils multiple legislative functions that the ACMA has under the ACMA Act, as well as obligations under section 105 of the Telecommunications Act. It presents a comprehensive overview of the communications and media environment in Australia and is a useful source of evidence for policymakers and regulators.

The Communications report 2018–19 was published on the ACMA website in February 2020. The findings show an increasingly complex landscape, along with new demand for online services.

Following an amendment to the Telecommunications Act on 12 December 2019 that removed the reporting requirement for most matters listed in section 105, a new format will be used in 2020–21 to present communications report trend data.

Research on the impact of digital platforms on news
News—transparency, distinguishability and impartiality

In 2019, we began looking into how the commercial broadcast news industry had changed due to digital disruption and whether current regulatory arrangements are fit for purpose. Our news project is exploring whether current community safeguards are delivering news and journalist content that meets community expectations and supports an open, pluralistic democracy in Australia.

We have undertaken in-depth research into various aspects of news and journalistic content, including localism, impartiality, diversity of voices and the distinguishability and disclosure of paid news content. These concepts are central to the broadcasting codes of practice and other elements of the regulatory framework (including co-regulation) that govern news and current affairs in Australia.

Our research tells us that a significant proportion of Australians continue to access news on television and radio. The research also shows that Australians are losing confidence in these traditional news sources.

In August and September 2019, we held workshops on defining localism and diversity in news with ACMA staff, academics and other government agencies. In November 2019, we held an internal workshop to inform development of a measurement framework for local content and diversity.

In response to research findings, we published a discussion paper in January 2020 for public consultation. We published submissions, in addition to reports of quantitative and qualitative consumer research and part of the literature review relating to commercial influence and impartiality.

Work was suspended due to current industry pressures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended that further work in 2020 will focus on developing and testing a measurement framework for diversity and localism in news.

Case study: Misinformation and news quality

There is growing global recognition of the need for citizens to be equipped to engage critically with online news and information sources, considering the increased prevalence of ‘fake news’ and misinformation. Digital platforms (including social media sites, news aggregators and online search engines) play a key role in aggregating and disseminating the content.

The government has tasked the ACMA with overseeing the development of a voluntary code (or codes) of practice for misinformation and news quality.

In June 2020, we released a position paper to guide digital platforms in their code development process. These positions cover threshold issues about the scope, design and administration of the code(s), and how the ACMA intends to measure platforms’ performance and assess the effectiveness of the code(s).

The position paper identified three key objectives to be achieved through the code, including reducing the impact of harmful misinformation, empowering people to better judge the quality of news and information, and enhancing the transparency and accountability of platforms’ practices.

Our work has been informed by consultations with major digital platforms and regulators, international approaches, academics and best practice approaches to industry self-regulation.

We expect the code(s) to be finalised for use by December 2020 and we will report to the government by June 2021 on the adequacy of the platforms’ measures and the broader impacts of misinformation.

3.2 Build ACMA capability for data analysis to enable improved understanding of regulatory and market developments

Data is a key resource for improving our effectiveness and efficiency as a regulator.

Our project to build the necessary data capabilities within the ACMA extends over a number of years. We have developed a governance framework to support the effective and efficient delivery of this project and made provisions to access necessary external expertise to assist the data capability and analytics project team.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 21

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 102–3

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Data strategy and governance framework developed

Data analysis and reporting is improved

Data literacy is enhanced agency-wide

The ACMA informs and advises the government and the community about developments in communications markets, including implications for relevant public interest objectives

Target:

Planned program of research is delivered and relevant findings are published, including about the efficiency and effectiveness of existing regulation

Data strategy and governance framework developed. Data analysis and reporting is improved. Data literacy is enhanced agency-wide

Over the course of 2019–20, we continued our focus on growing our data analytical capability by investing in our data capability, including recruitment of dedicated data analytics, reporting and data governance specialists.

Work also commenced to develop a cloud-based ICT environment to support data requirements.

Growing our data analytical capability is a key focus given the benefits of sharing and re-using data, including improving and refining services and policies for the community. Our broad remit allows us to collect a diverse range of data and information from a variety of sources, and to use it to enhance and inform our regulatory decisions.

In 2019–20, we developed a data strategy and governance framework to grow our data and analytics capabilities, moving us beyond traditional business intelligence. This multi-year commitment will improve the use of data for decision-making and accountability and provide valuable insight into the communications and media sectors we regulate. It will also allow stakeholders to effectively use our data assets.

We have established a small data analytics hub to help build our analytics capability and manage our high-value data.

In 2019–20, we piloted three data projects across the agency. These have been selected to cover different aspects of analytics and visualisation and broadly cover:

  • spectrum data and analytics portal—to enable integration of existing data sources and use of advanced analytics to deliver insights into how spectrum is currently being used
  • provider performance monitoring—to provide more dynamic reporting capabilities through the development of interactive dashboards for a range of telco performance data and enable better insights through the integration of key datasets such as complaints record-keeping rules data and TIO data
  • industry and market reporting dashboard—to enable staff to access communications market and industry insights.
  • We have released two interactive reports using data-visualisation tools:
  • Mobile-only Australia: living without a fixed line at home, October 2019, which looks at the technology Australians have used to communicate at home over the last five years—mobile, internet or both.
  • Kids and mobiles: how Australian children are using mobile phones, November 2019, which looks at the trends in kids’ mobile use since 2013.
3.3 Engage with stakeholders and government to support regulatory frameworks and obligations that are fit for purpose now, and as markets evolve

The effectiveness of our engagement is reflected in our openness to the views, ideas and experiences of our stakeholders to inform our work and the quality of our contributions to broader debates about issues relevant to our remit.

Measures to support the efficiency of this engagement include the use of diverse channels to seek and provide input, as well as targeting and prioritising the issues that we engage on in response to changes in our environment.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 21

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 102–3

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Consultations and stakeholder forums as well as the annual stakeholder survey inform rule-making

Appropriate and relevant safeguards are available to Australians consuming content and using communications and media services

Target:

Consultative and stakeholder forums, as well as focus and working groups, are used to gather evidence and inform rule making

The ACMA informs and advises the government and the community about developments in communications markets, including implications for relevant public interest objectives

Target:

Authoritative advice to reviews of media and communications regulatory frameworks is provided, including the Consumer Safeguards Review and the Digital Platform Inquiry

Authoritative advice is provided to reviews of communications and media regulatory frameworks

Consultations and stakeholder forums as well as the annual stakeholder survey inform rule-making
Consultations

We commenced 42 consultations in 2019–20. Of these, five remained open at the end of the year. Despite some consultations being extended or suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, consultation still enhanced regulatory responses and informed the development of frameworks. Consultations covered:

Spectrum and radiocommunications:

  • standards, licence conditions and determinations
  • spectrum planning, sharing, access and pricing
  • FYSO work program
  • licence area plans
  • principles for deeming of community broadcasting licence areas in regional Australia for digital radio
  • taxes and charges
  • device exemptions
  • licensing.

Content:

  • proposal to remake the Primary TV Services Declaration
  • proposal to remake the Parental Lock Standard
  • record-keeping by broadcasters
  • impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news.

Telecommunications:

  • standards and determinations
  • exemptions
  • customer cabling
  • new rules to prevent mobile number fraud
  • consumer protections and safeguards.
Case study: COVID-19 consultation actions by ACMA

The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges and impacts for Australians and impacted heavily on the industries the ACMA regulates. Commercial broadcasters experienced reduced revenue streams and disrupted content supply chains. Telcos were affected by the shutdown of overseas call centres, while at the same time seeing increased demands on domestic services. The financial impacts of restrictions also raised real questions about whether apparatus licensees would be able to pay their fees to the ACMA on time. Virtually all sectors experienced the same work from home and travel restrictions that impacted all Australians.

The ACMA stood up its COVID-19 Taskforce in April 2020 to quickly engage with our regulated industries on the pressures they were experiencing and to facilitate appropriate decisions on relief and forbearance. The Taskforce consulted comprehensively with peak bodies and regulated entities—as well as consumer groups, complaints handling bodies and relevant government agencies—to understand the issues and to provide clarity about process and decisions taken by the ACMA.

These consultations involved seeking to understand how the pandemic was impacting services and, where warranted, what conditional arrangements could be put in place so that undue impacts on consumers or audiences were prevented or minimised. Where relief was granted, it was limited in scope and duration, and targeted to give industry increased flexibility to focus its resources where most needed during a critical time.

In all, the ACMA made relief decisions concerning over 49 Acts and instruments and more than 200 separate legislative provisions. Information about the relief provided, along with related COVID-19 advice for consumers, was published on the ACMA’s website.

Stakeholder forums

During 2019–20, we arranged and/or participated in a number of stakeholder forums and working groups.

Scam Telecommunications Action Taskforce

The Taskforce is a key forum to inform our scam reduction activities and associated regulatory response. The ACMA chairs the taskforce with the ACCC, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Communications Alliance and the Department as members. The taskforce convened in February and June 2020. See Case study: Combating telco scams for more information.

The Numbering Advisory Committee

The ACMA’s Numbering Advisory Committee (NAC) brings together telecommunications industry stakeholders to provide advice and recommendations on issues related to the ACMA’s numbering functions with the objective of improving the benefits to suppliers and users of carriage services and facilitating competition. The NAC met on 11 March 2020. Issues discussed at this meeting included the Numbering Plan, local number porting, industry managed numbering and the ACMA’s scam reduction work.

Spectrum sharing tune-up

Spectrum tune-ups are ACMA events where we discuss current and emerging spectrum management issues in Australia with industry experts. In August 2019, we held a spectrum tune-up to explore recent international developments in spectrum sharing and discuss why, how, and under what circumstances similar arrangements could be adopted in Australia.

RadComms 2020

RadComms is the ACMA’s biggest spectrum management event, which provides a platform to discuss the best use of spectrum and look at future developments. Due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, the ACMA was unable to proceed with RadComms on 15–16 June 2020 as scheduled.

News project

We held two forums on defining localism and diversity in news with ACMA staff, academics and other government agencies in August and September 2019. See ‘Research on the impact of digital platforms on news’ for more information.

Consumer Consultative Forum

The Consumer Consultative Forum is the ACMA’s communications consumer advisory group. It brings together consumer organisations, telecommunications industry and government to discuss issues affecting users of mobiles, the internet and fixed-line telephones and give the ACMA informed and representative advice.

A meeting of the forum on 25 October 2019 focused on improving consumer education about 5G health concerns, financial hardship, addressing fraudulent mobile number porting and missed appointment rebates for customers using services delivered over the NBN.

The March 2020 meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.

Workshop on convergence of communications and power cabling

The ACMA worked with Communications Alliance in a workshop of relevant industry stakeholders and the electrical safety regulators to discuss the convergence of communications and power cabling and the implications on regulation. Communications Alliance held a further three e-workshops in April, May and June to explore this topic. Stakeholders included representatives from the cabling industry, state electrical safety regulators, Standards Australia and the ACMA.

Memorandums of understanding (MOU)

We work closely with other government agencies and industry organisations.

MOU with the TIO

In April 2020, a refreshed MOU with the TIO was signed. The new MOU enhances the previous arrangements for collaboration and information-sharing on compliance, enforcement and systemic issues, and provides a framework for the referral of compliance and systemic issues in complaints.

MOU with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)

On 19 November 2019, we signed a MOU with the OAIC to facilitate the agencies’ collaboration, cooperation and mutual assistance in the performance of our respective regulatory roles.

ACMA stakeholder survey

Our stakeholder survey is designed to explore perceptions of how well we communicate, consult and interact. It provides us with practical information to help us assess and improve our engagement.

The 2019 survey was conducted online by Woolcott Research & Engagement between November 2019 and February 2020. It sampled 127 stakeholders and 60 responses were received.

Key findings included:

  • improvement in overall satisfaction by the government segment, with this group more satisfied than industry stakeholders. More positive ratings were found for partnering or working on joint projects
  • satisfaction with our staff remains positive. Satisfaction with interactions with Authority members is also positive, particularly for clarity of communication and being accessible
  • satisfaction with our overall compliance and enforcement processes was generally comparable to previous findings. A slight decrease was observed in those satisfied with the administrative work involved, along with a slight increase in efficiency of decision-making
  • our publications were rated positively, with similar levels of satisfaction to previous years.

While the sample is small, the survey provides valuable insights into the views of various stakeholders and a reasonable basis to assess key stakeholder trends.

Authoritative advice is provided to reviews of communications and media regulatory frameworks
Bushfire Impact Review

In April 2020, we provided a report to the Minister about the impact of the 2019–20 bushfires on the telecommunications network. The report was published in May 2020. The report was based on information obtained from carriers and offered observations (where possible) about network resilience and the use of remediation measures to restore services. It provided a factual base for use by industry and government in considering options to improve network resilience and continuity of services to Australians.

In June 2020, the ACMA published an addendum to the report containing factual updates received after the report was published.

The Consumer Safeguards Review

The government is reviewing Australia’s telecommunications consumer safeguards to prepare the framework for a post–2020 environment. The Consumer Safeguards Review is being undertaken in three parts:

  • A: redress and complaints handling
  • B: reliability of telecommunications services
  • C: choice and fairness in the retail relationship between the customer and their provider.

Part A aimed to ensure that consumers can access an effective complaints-handling and redress scheme that provides transparency and accountability of telco providers for their performance.

In October 2019, we released the Telecommunications complaints-handling 2018–19 report. The report analysed data collected quarterly under the Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints) Record-Keeping Rules 2018 and assessed the complaints-handling performance of medium and large CSPs.

In March 2020, we enhanced our complaints data capability through the launch of a dynamic and interactive online complaints-handling dashboard. This provides consumers with the ability to interact with the complaints data and improved visibility of the performance of telecommunications services.

From early 2020, the ACMA engaged closely with the Department and the ACCC regarding planning and coordination of regulatory activities arising from Part B (reliability of services). The Department, ACCC and ACMA representatives met in June 2020 to coordinate and plan the implementation of the Part B recommendations.

ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry

Following the release of the government’s response to the Digital Platforms Inquiry Final Report in December 2019, we met with representatives of the Minister’s Office, the Department, Screen Australia and Digital Industry Group Inc for initial discussions about:

  • collaborating with Screen Australia to develop an options paper for government on potential interventions for Australian and children’s screen content
  • collaborating with digital platforms to develop a voluntary code (or codes) on disinformation and quality news and providing advice to government on the adequacy of digital platforms’ measures and the impacts of disinformation.

On 15 April, the Supporting Australian stories on our screens—options paper was published and, on 26 June 2020, we released a position paper outlining our expectations for a voluntary code or codes of practice on misinformation and news quality to be developed by digital platforms.

Review of Australian Classification Regulation

This review seeks to develop a classification framework that meets community needs and reflects today’s digital environment. We made a submission to the review in February 2020.

Consultation on a new online safety Act

The ACMA made a submission on 21 February 2020.

3.4 Improve regulatory practices to reduce regulatory burden, increase transparency and timeliness, and ensure actions are proportionate to risks

We use our customer survey and the government’s Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of our regulatory practices. These assessments are undertaken annually, and the results inform improvements in the delivery of our regulation for both regulated entities and consumers and audiences.

Assessment of results

Performance measure

Corporate plan 2019–20, p. 22

Criterion and target

PBS 2019–20, p. 102–3

Result

Met

Mostly met

Not met

Improvements to stakeholder interactions with the ACMA are informed by annual customer service user satisfaction survey

Compliant businesses, confident consumers and assured audiences

Target:

Avenues for making complaints are available and accessible to consumers and audiences and complaints are handled within published timeframes

Appropriate and relevant safeguards are available to Australians consuming content and using communications and media services

Target:

Potential regulatory changes are developed based on evidence informed by research, and appropriate stakeholder consultation

Improvements to regulatory practice are informed by annual Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) assessment process

Improvements to stakeholder interactions with the ACMA are informed by annual customer service user satisfaction survey
Customer Service Centre (CSC)

Customers engage with the CSC by phone, letter, email and online, and the CSC provides information and services across a range of issues.

The annual customer service user satisfaction survey supports the ACMA in ensuring that we continue to be responsive to customer requirements and meet our required time benchmarks. The CSC actioned 95 per cent of all enquiries within three business days.

In January 2020, Woolcott Research & Engagement was selected to conduct customer satisfaction research to evaluate the performance of the CSC. The results, drawn from customers who had contacted the CSC in the previous five months, found moderate decreases since last year, with 72 per cent overall satisfaction levels (2018–19: 77 per cent).

We are using the survey results as an input into our annual continuous improvement program for the CSC services.

Improvements to regulatory practice are informed by annual Regulator Performance Framework (RPF) assessment process

Each year we assess our performance against the six KPIs in the RPF—a government initiative to help improve the regulatory practice of Commonwealth regulators.

In December 2019, we published our fourth annual self-assessment under the government’s RPF framework for 2018–19. Results in the RPF self-assessment show that we met five of the six KPIs. KPI 1 was ‘mostly met’, with 88 per cent of the 35 timeliness targets met. The three timeliness targets not met related to telecommunications investigations and long-term community radio broadcasting licence applications and renewals. Delays were due to the complexity of the issues involved and the need for further information from stakeholders.

Highlights from the RPF include:

  • 100 per cent of investigations finalised within the timeliness benchmark for:
    • radiocommunications
    • interactive gambling
    • spam
    • Do Not Call Register (DNCR)
    • broadcast content
  • improved average processing times for nine processes compared to 2017–18
  • the Regulatory Futures section was established
  • the Scam Technology Project was established to explore practical solutions to scam calls
  • enhanced transparency and clarity supported by:
    • updating the Authority Code of Conduct
    • completing the design phase of our new website to make our online content easier to locate and understand
    • informing stakeholders about new rules through forums, presentations and published information
    • providing a Statement of Intent in response to the Government’s Statement of Expectations
    • publishing the Five-year spectrum outlook 2018–22 and annual spectrum work program
  • whole-of-agency compliance priorities for 2019–20 were developed for the first time
  • we undertook targeted audits and investigations and used a number of enforcement actions in responding proportionately to breaches.

The RPF assessment process includes stakeholders validating our self-assessment. Since the inception of the RPF, we have experienced a downward trend on stakeholders engaging in the validation process. Additional work to engage stakeholders in the process will be needed maintain the integrity of the validation process for future years.

Financial performance

The ACMA’s 2019–20 financial statements are provided in Appendix 14 of this report.

Activities administered on behalf of government

The ACMA collected income of $1,415.2 million on behalf of government in 2019–20. This was primarily made up of:

  • spectrum access charges ($852.9 million)
  • Telecommunications Industry Levy (TIL) ($261.9 million)
  • radiocommunications taxes (apparatus licence tax of $149.6 million)
  • broadcasting apparatus licence taxes (commercial broadcasting tax of $37.0 million)
  • telecommunication numbering charges ($60.0 million)
  • Annual Carrier Licence Charge (ACLC) ($31.1 million).

Further details on these income items are provided in the ‘Management and accountability—Income collected on behalf of government’ section of this report.

The ACMA’s administered expenses totalled $10.7 million and primarily comprised eSafety supplier costs ($5.4 million, 50 per cent of the total) and grant expenditure ($5.1 million, 48 per cent of the total) mainly relating to the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund.

As at 30 June 2020, the ACMA held $57.5 million in administered assets, primarily related to the ACLC receivable. The ACMA also held $131.2 million in administered liabilities.

Departmental activities

The ACMA reported a technical operating deficit of $11.2 million. After adjusting for unfunded depreciation and amortisation expenses, non-cash lease accounting items and changes to the asset revaluation surplus, the ACMA recorded a minor operating surplus.

Departmental expenses totalled $108.3 million, primarily made up of staffing and supplier expenditure. Departmental income totalled $1.1 million and mainly comprised sale of goods, rendering of services, resources received free-of-charge and gains on assets.

As at 30 June 2020, the ACMA had a positive net asset position of $36.6 million. Assets totalled $118.6 million. Liabilities totalled $82.0 million, including lease liabilities, employee provisions, supplier accruals and lease liabilities.

Figure 1.3: Analysis of departmental activities  2015–16 83,780,000, 2016–17 83,307,000, 2017–18 86,141,000, 2018–19 91,062,000, 2019–20 97,151,000
Note: Departmental expenses include depreciation and amortisation charges, which are not funded by departmental income.

 2015–16 53,559,000, 2016–17 50,226,000, 2017–18 42,675,000, 2018–19 37,710,000, 2019–20 36,570,000.

Note: 2019–20 reflects the revised treatment of leases under AASB 16 Leases, which increases both assets and liabilities.