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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 1


Senator Ludlam asked the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, upon notice, on 11 December 2009:

(1)   With reference to Very High Frequency (VHF) radio frequency regulation: Can a self-regulatory system be supported by the expansion of the radio class licence system.

(2)   How does the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and its responsibility to promote self-regulation apply to the operation of the Citizen Band Radio Service (CBRS) which operates on the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) waveband.

(3)   What are the merits of a system where revenue can be obtained from radio users such as within the Australian inshore boating community which operates on the VHF waveband versus the CBRS that operates on the UHF waveband.

(4)   Can an update be provided on the progress of the review of the 5 year management plan for the UHF waveband.

(5)   What restructuring of the operation of the UHF section of the CBRS is being contemplated.

(6)   Is ACMA considering relocating the CBRS given the pressures on other users of the UHF waveband.

(7)   Given that the ACMA is currently reviewing the operation of the VHF marine service for recreational boat users:

(a)   how many complaints have been received regarding the activity currently taking place on the international distress channel 16 and channel 67;

(b)   can a breakdown of these complaints, by state and territory, be provided;

(c)   have any state or federal agency made a complaint regarding this activity; if so, which agencies have made these complaints; and

(d)   is there also a need for the authority to look at the congestion that is increasing on all VHF channels, including channel 73.

(8)   Are there any financial penalties that can be applied to any radio operator or coastal radio station that misuses these channels.

(9)   Given there is some movement to do away with the marine Medium Frequency and High Frequency radio service, can ACMA provide its position on whether it supports a shift away from boat operators using these bands.


Senator Conroy (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for the regulation of spectrum. I have received the following advice from ACMA in relation to the question:

(1)   The Radiocommunications Act 1992 (the Act) provides for management of the radiofrequency spectrum in Australia. The promotion of self regulation is not one of the objectives of the Act. However, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) encourages self regulation where it would be efficient and appropriate. The three radiofrequency licence categories - apparatus, class and spectrum - authorised under the Act can all have elements of self regulation that offer operators varying levels of discretion within the parameters of the particular licence.

(2)   ACMA’s responsibilities are determined by the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005. ACMA’s responsibilities include the management of the radiofrequency spectrum in accordance with the Act. As mentioned in the answer to Question 1 above, the Act does not have self regulation as an explicit objective.

(3)   Citizen Band (CBRS) and inshore (inshore waters and inland waterways) maritime radio are both generally regulated under class licences. Class licensing is an effective and efficient means of spectrum management for services where a limited set of common frequencies are employed, and equipment is operated under a common set of conditions. It also involves minimal licence administration by ACMA. A class licence sets out the conditions under which any person is permitted to operate. Class licences are not issued to an individual user, and do not attract individual licence fees. The CBRS is regulated under the Radiocommunications (Citizen Band Radio Stations) Class Licence 2002. Any person in Australia can operate a Citizen Band radio, for recreational, domestic or business purposes. CBRS operators pay no licence fees. CBRS operates in the HF and UHF bands. There are 40 CBRS channels in the HF band, ranging from 26.960 MHz to 27.410 MHz. There are 40 CBRS channels in the UHF band, ranging from 476.4125 MHz to 477.4125 MHz. ACMA does not treat inshore maritime radio as a source of revenue. Certain inshore maritime radio users pay cost recovery fees, as set out below. Some of these are paid to ACMA, and some are paid to the Australian Maritime College (AMC). Inshore maritime radio is regulated under the Radiocommunications (Maritime Ship Station - 27 MHz and VHF) Class Licence 2001. The class licence specifies that the operator of a VHF maritime radio must hold a relevant certificate of proficiency. Operators obtain a lifetime certificate of proficiency by completing an exam administered by the Australian Maritime College (AMC). The AMC charges cost-recovery fees for the exam ($56) and for the Marine Radio Operators Handbook that is used in preparing for the exam. In the 2008/09 financial year, the AMC collected a total of over $600,000 in cost-recovery fees. Details of AMC fees can be found on the AMC website at: http://www.amc.edu.au/omc/fees. In some cases related to international requirements for ships that travel outside Australia, individual apparatus licensing (as opposed to class licensing) is still considered necessary to authorise the operation of maritime radios. Individual marine licensees pay an annual fee of around $50, which is set to recover ACMA’s direct and indirect costs. There are over 8,000 such licensees from which ACMA annually recovers around $400,000 in costs.

(4)   ACMA is currently undertaking two activities relevant to the future management arrangements for spectrum in the UHF band. The first activity is the Five-Year Spectrum Outlook (FYSO) which is an ongoing assessment of the demand for different parts of the radiofrequency spectrum. (http://www.acma.gov.au/WEB/STANDARD/pc=PC_311686). The FYSO assists in the identification of emerging pressures and changing uses and contributes to the debate on spectrum management generally. The second activity considers spectrum options for arrangements in the frequency band 403-520 MHz which is sometimes referred to as the 400 MHz band or the UHF band. ACMA has released two public consultation papers intended to outline ACMA proposals for future arrangements in the 400 MHz band and seek comments on future band arrangements. The papers are “Spectrum Proposals: 403-520 MHz - Proposals for future arrangements in the 400 MHz band” released in March 2009 and “Spectrum Options: 403-520 MHz - Initial consultation on future arrangements for the 400 MHz band” released in April 2008. A third discussion paper is due for release in the 1st quarter of 2010. As part of this review, ACMA is currently considering appropriate spectrum for a harmonised government band within the 400 MHz band.

(5)   The CBRS currently uses 40 of the 25 kHz bandwidth channels in the UHF band, over the frequency range 476.4125 - 477.4125 MHz. ACMA has proposed, in its public consultation paper “Spectrum Proposals: 403-520 MHz - Proposals for future arrangements in the 400 MHz band” of March 2009, to reduce the channel bandwidth to 12.5 kHz. This proposal recognises the advancement of technology which results in the creation of additional channels, and thus greater use, within the same spectrum space. ACMA has also proposed that the band be extended by 6.25 kHz to enable operation in the range 476.4125 - 477.41875 MHz to allow for an additional voice channel. Channel numbering and raster (i.e. alignment by frequency) arrangements within the band are also under review.

(6)   Relocation of the CBRS is not currently being considered by ACMA.

(7) (a)   Over an 18 month period to 11 December 2009, ACMA received 19 complaints about channels 16 and 67.  (b) Yes:

NSW

VIC

SA

WA

QLD

TAS

Total

Totals

6

1

4

4

2

2

19

(c)   Yes. Complaints have been received from a state police force and a ports corporation.

(d)   ACMA staff are currently examining the use of the VHF Maritime Mobile band including the extent of the congestion.

(8)   Yes. There are a variety of financial penalties that can be applied under Radiocommunications Act 1992 for breaches of licence conditions, including misuse of certain radiofrequency channels.

(9)   ACMA has not had to drive the transition to VHF maritime mobile transceivers. This shift has been market driven through individual and industry preference. VHF Maritime Mobile transceivers have become more affordable and readily available. Consequently, individuals and industry have moved away from the interference prone uniquely Australian maritime 27 MHz equipment. As such ACMA is not aware of any need for regulatory intervention in this respect.