A carrier needs a licence from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to operate facilities if they are used to supply telecommunications services to the public. Such facilities are called “network units”.
There are no restrictions on the number of licences issued by the ACMA.
Carriers must comply with licence conditions, including:
- complying with the Telecommunications Act 1997
- complying with the telecommunications access regime (under Part XIC of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 )
- complying with related-facilities access obligations (under Schedule 1 of the Telecommunications Act).
The Minister can also impose other licence conditions on individual carriers, classes of carriers or all carriers.
Sometimes the owner of the infrastructure does not want to be a licensed carrier and nominates a carrier to operate its facilities. It does this by asking the ACMA for a 'nominated carrier declaration”. Under this declaration, a carrier operates the facilities.
Licensing fees include an application fee and an annual fee. The annual fee is calculated as a percentage of eligible carriers’ annual revenue and is applied to fund the cost administering the regulatory regime. Some larger carriers also must pay a levy to contribute to the universal services obligation.
What types of facilities need a licence?
Telecommunications companies need carrier licences or nominated carrier declarations to use network units to supply services to the public. Network units are basically transmission facilities. The following are the types of network units under the Telecommunications Act:
- line links connecting distinct places in Australia, where the line link or links meets certain minimum distance requirements
- satellite-based facilities used to supply carriage services between two or more points in Australia
- base stations used for mobile services or wireless local loop (customer access network) services
- some fixed radiocommunications links.
The Minister can determine more facilities if they need to be regulated.
There are carrier licensing exemptions for defence and intelligence operations, transport authorities, broadcasters and electricity supply bodies under the Telecommunications Act 1997.
The Minister can also make a determination exempting specified network units, people or use of a network unit from carrier licensing obligations. This can happen if the obligations are deemed to be inappropriate or against the objectives of the Telecommunications Act 1997.
There are two types of service providers, carriage service providers and content service providers:
- a carriage service provider uses carriers’ facilities to supply telecommunications services to the public. Internet service providers (ISPs) are carriage service providers
- a content service provider supplies content services to the public (for example, a pay TV service).
A carrier can be a carrier and a service provider.
Service providers don’t need individual licences, but there are rules they must follow:
- they must comply with the Telecommunications Act 1997 (including, for example, an obligation on carriage service providers supplying the standard telephone service, mobile services or Internet access services to join the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman scheme).
- they must provide directory assistance, operator services and itemised billing to customers using the standard telephone service
- they must comply with access obligations imposed by the telecommunications access regime.
The ACMA can impose some other types of service provider rules under various regulations.