Telecommunications carriers have powers under Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to inspect land, install ‘low-impact’ facilities, and to maintain any kind of telecommunications facility. They also have immunity from some state and territory laws when carrying out these activities, such as planning laws.
This is called the carriers’ powers and immunities framework.
The carriers' powers and immunities framework is important as it allows for the efficient construction and maintenance of telecommunications networks in a nationally consistent way.
Low-impact facilities are telecommunications equipment that:
- are essential to the efficient operation of telecommunications networks
- have low visual impact, and
- are unlikely to cause significant community disruption during installation or operation.
These laws encourage telecommunications carriers to roll out networks using components that fall within strict type, size, colour and location limitations. For example, telecommunications companies use these powers to install pillars and antennae used to deliver landline and mobile communications services to the community.
They do not allow for the construction of larger infrastructure, such as free standing telecommunications towers or poles.
Approvals for the installation of free standing telecommunications towers and poles are the responsibility of state, territory and local governments. Planning laws generally require a development application to be submitted to the local council and for the council to consult on the application. The Government is not involved in state, territory and local government planning processes.
Obligations for carriers
When carrying out activities using the powers and immunities framework, telecommunications carriers must comply with various safety and operational requirements. For example, carriers must:
- act in accordance with good engineering practices and interfere as little as possible with the landowner's use of the land,
- comply with industry standards and codes registered by ACMA,
- give certain certificates to landowners within 60 days of installing specific classes of facilities,
- restore the land to a state similar to its condition before the activity began, and
- keep and maintain records of certain types of facilities.
Telecommunications carriers are required to notify landowners and land occupiers if they are planning to undertake upcoming works. This includes telling landowners and occupiers about plans to install telecommunications infrastructure. A notice should be sent at least 10 business days before the carrier starts any activity on the land.
The requirements outlined above are not exhaustive. Information about additional safety and operational requirements are set out in Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 2021.
The Industry Code
Telecommunications carriers are expected to engage with communities in a meaningful and sensitive way about proposed deployments.
The Industry Code for Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment C564:2020 sets out processes that mobile carriers should follow when installing low-impact facilities. The Industry Code is designed to ensure that stakeholders are advised before a mobile phone base station is constructed, and that council and community views are taken into account.