Network access and interconnection

Regulation

What rules, requirements and procedures govern network-to-network access and interconnection?

Generally, a carrier is required under Schedule 1 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to provide other carriers with access to telecommunications facilities owned or operated by it, and access to telecommunications sites and towers and underground facilities.

The obligation to provide access to telecommunications facilities applies only in circumstances where:

  • the access is provided for the sole purpose of enabling the second carrier to provide competitive carriage services and/or to establish its own facilities;
  • the request is reasonable and reasonable notice is provided; and
  • the facilities (excluding customer cabling or equipment) were installed prior to June 30 1991 or, if installed after that date, were not obtained solely by commercial negotiation.

The obligations to provide access to telecommunications transmission sites and towers or underground facilities applies only where:

  • access is provided for the sole purpose of enabling the second carrier to install a facility or a line for the supply of a carriage service (as applicable);
  • reasonable notice is provided; and
  • the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has not certified that granting access is not technically feasible.

Carriers must also comply with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Code of Access to Telecommunications Transmissions Towers, Sites of Towers and Underground Facilities, which – as the name suggests – sets out non-price terms of access to telecommunications transmission sites and towers and underground facilities.

Pricing

Are access/interconnection prices subject to regulation?

The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (CCA) provides that the ACCC may set terms and conditions, including price terms, for access to facilities through an access determination for declared services. A ‘declared service’ is a specified eligible service (being a listed carriage service or a service that facilitates the supply of a listed carriage service) that has been declared by the ACCC after certain criteria are met, including that the declaration will promote the long-term interests of end users.

Where an access provider of a declared service also owns or controls one or more telecommunications facilities, there is also an obligation to supply ancillary facilities access services. Accordingly, the ACCC may also impose terms and conditions that relate to facilities access services that are ancillary to obtaining access to a declared service.

Disputes

How are access/interconnection disputes resolved?

Disputes on access/interconnection issues must be resolved between the carriers themselves on terms agreed in the negotiated access arrangement, or by mediation. If the carriers are unable to resolve the dispute themselves, the carriers must refer the dispute to an independent arbitrator. If the parties fail to agree on the appointment of an arbitrator, the carriers must refer the dispute to the ACCC to arbitrate the dispute.

Next-generation access

Have any regulations or initiatives been introduced or proposed with respect to next-generation access?

Although no formal regulations have been introduced in Australia, there is an increasing interest in considering 5G (fifth generation of wireless technology) capability. In February 2016 ACMA released an occasional paper titled “5G and mobile network developments: Emerging issues”. More recently, in September 2017, ACMA released a consultation paper to progress consideration for the release of the millimetre wave spectrum (mmWave) for 5G broadband. Once responses have been received, ACMA’s intention is to make a decision on progressing one or more mmWave bands to be used to provide broadband services.

Infrastructure access

Land access

What rules and procedures govern telecoms operators’ access to land (both public and private) to install, maintain and repair infrastructure?

Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 grants carriers certain rights to inspect, install and maintain telecommunications facilities. The right to install a facility may be exercised only if the carrier holds a facility installation permit (issued in accordance to a set criteria), the facility is a low-impact facility or is a temporary facility for use by a defence organisation for defence purposes.

A carrier must comply with certain conditions when inspecting, installing and maintaining telecommunications facilities. This includes providing written notice to the owner of land specifying the purpose of the activity, doing as little damage as practicable and restoring the land, complying with industry standards and codes of practice, and entering into agreements with public utilities.

Infrastructure sharing

Are infrastructure sharing agreements among operators popular and/or encouraged by the regulatory authorities? Which infrastructure sharing structures/agreements are commonly used? Do any regulations apply?

Infrastructure sharing is encouraged by the ACCC and ACMA to promote competition by facilitating the entry of new mobile and fixed-line operators. The types of common sharing agreement include co-location agreements, master access agreements, shared services agreements, resale of telecommunications capacity and spectrum leasing agreements. Standard contractual principles will apply to a private agreement between parties.

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