Australian Government launches new cyber engagement strategy

Foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop has launched an ‘International Cyber Engagement Strategy’ (the Strategy). The Strategy seeks to establish a whole-of-government approach across seven areas including internet governance and cooperation, cybersecurity, cybercrime, and digital trade.

Under the Strategy, the Government has pledged to oppose efforts to bring the management of the internet under government control, and advocate for an “open, free and secure internet". The Strategy also includes plans for the Government to engage with Indo-Pacific partners in regional and international discussions on internet governance and cooperation.

For cybersecurity, the Strategy states that Australia will “promote cybersecurity as a fundamental input to the design and delivery of information and communication technologies products, systems and services.” The Strategy also commits to strengthening and expanding Australia’s group of international cybersecurity information sharing partners and trusted networks along with its network of Computer Emergency Response Team relationships. The Strategy also indicates that Australia plans to work with regional partners to establish a Pacific Cyber Security Operational Network.

Under the Strategy, the Australian Government will seek to facilitate policy development and public discussion on acceptable state behaviour in cyberspace, and seek reaffirmation from other nations that they will act in accordance with international law in this area.

The copy of the Strategy is available here.

NSW Government announces funding for regional communications

John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier of NSW and Minister for Regional NSW has announced that the NSW State Government will provide at least $50 million to improve mobile phone and internet services in rural and regional areas of the state under the Connecting Country Communities Fund.

This funding is in addition to A$ 39 million the NSW government has previously committed as part of co-investment funding in the Commonwealth Mobile Blackspots Program. The Connecting Country Communities Fund will form part of the previously announced A$ 1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.

The Council of Australian Governments to establish a national facial recognition database

At a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the Australian Federal Government and the governments of states and territories announced their agreement to establish a national facial recognition database.

The biometric information required for the database will be obtained through the various governments' repositories of drivers' licence photos. The planned face matching services will include a face verification service, face identification service, one person one licence service, and a facial recognition analysis utility service.

COAG has stated that the services would be used primarily for law enforcement purposes: to prevent identity crime; to improve road safety; and to develop more accurate and efficient identity verification systems.

The COAG's decision has drawn criticism from major privacy organisations, describing the database as a expensive mass surveillance program. A joint statement from the Australian Privacy Foundation, Digital Rights Watch, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, South Australian Council for Civil Liberties and Electronic Frontiers Australia has condemned the decision, arguing that a facial recognition database would invade privacy, give rise to 'false positives' which would drain police and security services' resources, and lead to 'scope creep' where the database would be used for purposes outside the stated primary scope of law enforcement.

ACMA commences residual spectrum auction process

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has started its major multiband spectrum auction of lots in the 1800MHz, 2GHz, 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, with applications now open and an estimated auction date of 28 November.

There are a total of 39 lots on offer between the bands, each corresponding to a specific geographic area in either metro or regional Australia. All lots available in 1800MHz and 2GHz are either 5MHz or 10MHz paired, and the lots available in 3.4GHz are all sub-5MHz (apart from one 32.5MHz outlier in Brisbane).

The starting prices set by ACMA for each lot varies significantly, from A$ 1,000 for 28MHz of 2.3GHz in the outer Australian Capital Territory up to A$ 5.74 million for 5MHz paired of 2GHz in Brisbane.

ACCC to suspend decision on NBN special access undertaking until end of price consultation

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced it will suspend its decision on NBN’s proposed special access undertaking (SAU) until the firm’s latest round of price consultation is concluded.

The SAU governs the terms and conditions under which NBN supplies services to its RSP customers, and the variation – first submitted in May last year – would modify that instrument to incorporate FTTN, FTTB and HFC technologies. In March this year, the ACCC rejected the first proposed variation due to three specific non-price issues. In response, NBN revised and resubmitted the SAU in June.

The ACCC has suspended its SAU decision until NBN finishes its current pricing consultation, currently in its second round; the network builder is currently reviewing RSP feedback, and is unlikely to map out possible changes until after that review process is complete.

While the impact on NBN of not having the SAU variation approved yet is somewhat limited, the regulator’s decision demonstrates the importance of NBN pricing for the broader industry.

Australian Government releases 5G directions paper

Communications minister Mitch Fifield has announced the Government’s agenda for 5G, releasing a new directions paper (the Directions Paper) outlining policy approaches and announcing a 5G working group to facilitate industry collaboration.

Minister Fifield stated that the Government sees 5G as a significant development in communications technology rather than an incremental advancement. The Directions Paper proposes "immediate actions" that the Government plans to undertake to ensure that 5G is introduced in a timely and efficient manner. These actions include:

  • committing to a new spectrum management framework by 2019;
  • engaging in the international standardisation process. The Directions Paper acknowledges the work of both the International Telecommunications Union and the 3GPP in this area and pledges that the Government will participate in international discussions about 5G spectrum harmonisation;
  • streamlining arrangements to allow mobile carriers to deploy infrastructure;
  • reviewing existing telecommunications regulatory arrangements to ensure they are fit for purpose; and
  • the Department of Communications and the Arts convening a new working group that would bring together representatives from across government and industry.

A copy of the Directions Paper is available here.

TIO reports an increase in complaints

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's (TIO) FY17 annual report (the Report) has revealed that complaints across the sector surged 41% year-on-year, with NBN accounting for a significantly increased proportion of the complaints. The Report also indicated that, in the second half of the year, complaints about the NBN had been growing faster than the rate at which the network builder was activating new connections.

Across the board, total complaints to the TIO grew to 158,016 in FY17 compared to 112,518 in the previous financial year. Complaints about internet services had outstripped those about mobile phones for the first time, growing 64.8% year-on-year to 63,892 – a rate almost double that of complaints regarding landline phones (30.1% to 41,824) and mobiles (27.5% to 52,300).

Complaints about the NBN increased by 159.3% to reach a total of 27,195 in FY17, which was equivalent to 25.72% of all complaints industrywide about non-mobile services compared to
14.79% in the previous period. 10,646 NBN complaints were about landline phone services, while 16,549 were related to internet services.

South Australia recorded the highest growth in complaints, an increase of 51%, followed by Western Australia with 49.1%.

A copy of the Report is available here.

ACMA progresses with 3.6GHz, 900MHz spectrum plans

The Australian Media and Communications Authority is pushing ahead with its proposal to optimise the entire 125MHz band for fixed or mobile broadband in both regional and metro areas. Meanwhile, the regulator has also outlined plans to reallocate spectrum for 4G in the 900MHz band previously used mainly for 2G, and has released this year’s update to its rolling 5-year spectrum outlook – with a strong focus on implementing the recommendations of the recent spectrum review.

The ACMA has prioritised replanning for the 3575-3700MHz band on the strength of global interest in the use of those frequencies for 5G. ACMA views re-farming the bulk of the spectrum for mobile broadband as delivering the highest net benefit to Australia. Incumbent users of the spectrum, including wireless operators and some satellite operators, will be obliged to relocate.

The ACMA has indicated that it expects to provide its recommendation to the minister by December in anticipation of a direction to be delivered next February. It then anticipates commencing an auction of the 3.6GHz spectrum licenses from October 2018.

ACCC releases draft report market study on communications sector

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released its draft report 'Communications Sector Market Study' (the Draft Report). The Draft Report includes the ACCC’s draft findings, proposed recommendations, and proposed actions in relation to communications services across the retail and wholesale supply chain.

In the 180 page Draft Report, the regulator proposes 29 actions which, if implemented, would effect substantial change across the NBN, mobile, IoT, MVNO, internet and OTT sectors. The ACCC has volunteered policy advice to the government on NBN funding and has threatened intervention on service standards, contract arrangements and broadband speed claims. The Draft Report also touches on the rapid pace of technological development including investment in data centres, content delivery networks, cloud services, and the anticipated rollout of 5G.

A copy of the Draft Report is available here.

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