A proposal to hand the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) a deeper remit has been met with a cautious response from telcos.
Telstra said any remit changes should be “temporary”, while Optus argued the approach demonstrated “common sense” but should be clarified. Vodafone largely ignored the issue, showing more concern for how the ACMA and ACCC interact.
A government review of the ACMA in May made a draft proposition that the ACMA’s remit cover "all the layers of the communications market, including infrastructure, transport, devices, content and applications”.
Regulatory influence over the so-called full stack of components used to deliver communications services could help ACMA respond more quickly to emerging issues and behaviour deemed harmful to consumers.
Optus appeared most supportive of Australia’s three major telcos of the proposal, albeit with some caveats.
“The department’s proposal that the ACMA’s remit be divided across the four layers of the communications market is a common-sense approach,” Optus said.
“Further consultation will be required to clarify which entities fall within each of the layers and how the layers will be applied under the ACMA’s jurisdiction.”
One reason for its preliminary support could be that it sees an opportunity to reduce the level of upkeep it (and other telcos) contribute to the ACMA via carrier license fees.
“Whilst Optus does not propose to over-burden the industry and over-the-top providers, it would make sense for there to be some method by which all providers must register with the industry regulator before providing services to the Australian public,” Optus said.
“All registered providers should contribute a fee (even if it is a nominal amount in some cases) towards the ACMA’s functions, as opposed to carrier licensees bearing an undue financial burden compared to the rest of the industry.”
Telstra said it only supported handing the ACMA a full stack remit if it were a “temporary” measure until a “contemporary communications regulatory framework” is developed, ushering in a wider modernisation and reform of current arrangements.
“The remit of the ACMA should not be left as broad as contemplated,” Telstra said, “otherwise consideration should be given to ensuring that the risk of regulatory overreach is mitigated.”
Vodafone did not address the proposed growth of scope of the ACMA, instead focusing on questions of whether the ACMA or ACCC should have responsibility for competition and economic regulation, and how those two agencies should collaborate.
There was support generally for clarification and clear lines between the remits of the two bodies with regulatory influence over the communications sector.
While the telcos offered mixed support, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) said an ACMA with full stack oversight could be of benefit.
“Having responsibilities for all participants in the supply chain is particularly important in the telecommunications industry where there are complex supply arrangements,” the TIO said.
“It is not uncommon for one or more wholesalers to exist in the supply chain between a carrier and a consumer's retail service provider.
“To ensure the ACMA can effectively regulate the telecommunications sector, it is important that it has visibility and authority across all participants.”