The Department of Communications has today taken the next step in its review of the Australian radio spectrum management framework by releasing its Spectrum Review Potential Reform Directions Consultation Paper (Reform Paper).

Although much of the detail is still to come, the Reform Paper is an important step in the process, with the Government outlining eleven potential proposals for sweeping reforms – all designed to boost innovation and productivity while also streamlining the existing framework.

The Reform Paper follows the consultation in May 2014 on the Terms of Reference for the Department’s review, which is being undertaken in conjunction with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Comments on the Reform Paper are due 2 December, with the Department to report to the Minister in early 2015 and implementation of any reforms likely to commence in 2015 (although feedback on timing is part of the consultation).

The rationale for the proposals is based on the five key principles of transparency, efficiency, flexibility, certainty and simplicity, with the Reform Paper outlining some of the biggest changes to the spectrum management framework in over a decade.

Why the review?

The current spectrum management framework was put in place in 1992 with the Radiocommunications Act 1992 (Cth) (Act), and the last substantive review of this framework was undertaken in 2002 by the Productivity Commission.

Recognising the importance of spectrum to economic and social wellbeing (e.g. through its support of mobile broadband), the Reform Paper notes that the capacity to maximise the economic and social return from spectrum under the existing arrangements is constrained because:

  • parts of the framework are administratively burdensome and have limited flexibility;
  • current market mechanisms (e.g. pricing and allocation processes) do not adequately reflect the changing value of spectrum over the term of the licence or are not flexible enough to accommodate emerging uses and technologies; and
  • there is a lack of strong incentives for maximising the use of allocated spectrum.

What is being proposed?

Click here to view the table.