Under Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 carriers can go onto someone’s property to inspect the land and install and maintain facilities and infrastructure. In doing this, they also need to meet the requirements of:
Carriers are exempt from some state and territory laws, including planning laws, for:
temporary facilities for use by a defence organisation
facilities for which the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has granted a Facility Installation Permit.
If a facility is not one in of these three groups, then carriers must comply with state and territory laws and planning regulations
It’s in everyone’s interests for carriers to be able to provide services to the people who need them. Carriers can rollout low-impact facilities infrastructure under one, national process, rather than multiple state, territory and local government requirements. This reduces the administrative burden on governments and carriers.
What are low-impact facilities?
Low-impact facilities include some radiocommunications facilities, underground and above-ground housing, underground and some aerial cables, public payphones, emergency and co-located facilities.
These low-impact facilities are needed for telecommunications networks to provide wider coverage and services. The strict type, size, colour and location limitations of low-impact facilities means that carriers can roll out networks with as little disruption to the community as possible during installation or operation.
Facilities can’t be low-impact facilities if they’re to be installed in areas of environmental significance or in places listed on a Commonwealth, state of territory heritage register. These facilities must meet the requirements of the usual Commonwealth, state or territory approval processes, such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 or the broader telecommunications regime, including the Radiocommunications Act 1992.
What obligations do carriers have?
There are limits on what carriers can do under the Telecommunications Act 1997. These give land owners and occupiers the right to:
Notification—Carriers must give 10 days’ written notice before they start any work, other than in emergencies or if the owner or occupier has already waived the right to be notified. There are alternative arrangements if the carrier can’t find the land owner.
Objection—An owner or occupier can object, but it has to be at least five business days before the carrier plans to start work. The matter can then be resolved in person, or through the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
Compensation—Carriers must pay compensation for financial loss or damage they do. The damage can be temporary or permanent. It’s up to a carrier to come to an agreement about the amount of compensation with a property-owner. If they can’t agree, they can settle the matter through the courts.
The Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 sets out further obligations on carriers. For example, carriers, and their contractors, must comply with good engineering practice and consider noise limits, the environment, and obstruction of essential services when installing or maintaining facilities.
Compliance with the Telecommunications Act and the Telecommunications Code of Practice is a licence condition. As the regulator, the ACMA can enforce licence conditions by, for example, issuing directions to carriers, or by initiating court action in serious cases.
Obligations on landholders and occupiers
Carriers own any infrastructure they install, including cables.
Property owners have certain responsibilities and a duty of care to carriers under common law. If a carrier is able to demonstrate that a property owner had deliberately or negligently caused damage to a cable, the carrier may be able to seek damages from the property owner in a court of law. Criminal offences may also apply for intentional damage to a carrier’s property
Providing services to multi-dwelling units
Carriers supplying telecommunications services to multi-dwelling units often need to install termination boxes and other equipment in the building. Some of these in-building facilities are low-impact facilities. This equipment is generally unobtrusive and it lets occupants of multi-dwelling units access telecommunications services.
The Communications Alliance (formerly the Australian Communications Industry Forum) worked with carriers to find technical solutions to access issues relating to in-building subscriber equipment. These are set out in the industry guideline on building access operations and installation:
NBN Co Limited and other carriers offering NBN equipment services, can more readily deploy fibre in streets, connect premises and locate equipment in multi-unit buildings after a consultation process and the resulting amendments to: