Spectrum review proposes greater role for market

Review of Australia's spectrum management framework pushes for greater opportunities to share and trade holdings

A review into Australia's spectrum management framework has recommended introducing new rules that will increase the opportunities to share and trade spectrum.

The report recommends replacing the Radiocommunications Act 1992 with a new framework that will "provide for greater market‐based activity, including by increasing the opportunity for spectrum holders to share and trade spectrum" and simplify spectrum regulatory structures. This includes the introduction of a single licensing system.

The report was prepared by the Department of Communications.

"Given the inherent costs and inefficiencies in both governments and markets trying to jointly coordinate economic activity, the reforms [proposed by the review] provide a greater opportunity for Government to establish and promote the necessary conditions for market‐based activity up‐front with a view to limiting the extent to which further direct interventions are necessary," the report states.

It adds that under the proposed new framework the government would retain the right to "intervene in specific spectrum management matters to achieve policy priorities."

The new act would be outcome-focussed instead of being prescriptive about processes, the report said.

"Spectrum users and the [Australian Communications and Media Authority] would have increased discretion when operationalising the framework to better meet changing market circumstances, within a framework of legislative objectives and principles and Ministerial policy oversight," it said.

Another key recommendation is that the government should require agencies that hold spectrum to regularly report the value of their holdings and permit them "to either lease or sell the spectrum and retain the benefit of doing so".

The Department of Communications should also "review the arrangements for pricing of spectrum (including exemptions, concessions, administrative charges and taxes) so that these are consistent, transparent and support efficient use in secondary markets."

The government said it is considering its response to the recommendations.

The release of the review drew a positive response from the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which endorsed replacing the Radiocommunications Act 1992 with a new regulatory framework.

"The department’s report to [Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull] sets out an ambitious program of review which has identified key reform opportunities designed to support a contemporary spectrum policy and management framework," the organisation's CEO, Chris Althaus, said in a statement.

A statement from the organisation said it "strongly supports the 'fit-for-purpose' theme identified as a key characteristic for a future spectrum licensing regime and one that is exactly what’s needed in modern spectrum markets as mobile operators strive to meet customer increasing demand for mobile services and applications, which in turn enable productivity gains throughout the economy."

AMTA endorsed proposals to introduce a unified licensing spectrum regime and to clarify the role of the minister.

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