The first Australian telecommunications code of practices has been finalised.
Commenced in December 1999, released for public comment in August 2000, revised and re-exhibited for public comment in August 2000, the Australian Communications Industry Forum’s (ACIF’s) Code for the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure has at last been finalised.
In March this year, after 30 months of intense debate, the Committee endorsed the final version of the Code. The Code was approved by the ACIF Board on 9 April and has been submitted to the Australian Communications Authority for its approval and registration. Upon registration, which is anticipated to occur around midyear, the Code will become binding upon all telecommunications carriers.
The Code was developed to help deal with community concerns about the risks of electromagnetic radiation from communications facilities. It has attempted to do this by requiring carriers to adopt a precautionary approach to the siting, design and operation of infrastructure and by requiring more extensive consultation.
The Explanatory Statement of the document states, “An underlying principle of this Code is that public health and safety is of paramount importance. In the context of this Code, the precautionary principle therefore means that precautions are taken to minimise exposure to radio emissions by virtue of its possible association with health problems in order to protect people even though radio emissions at low levels have not been proven to cause such problems.”
The code will apply to activities undertaken by telecommunication carriers and this includes the installation of both low–impact and not-low-impact mobile phone antennas
Though the Code is quite detailed in its requirements, the following brief summary provides an outline of some of the principal obligations it will place on carriers.Section 4: General Obligations
If asked, carriers must provide information to assist councils develop their forward planning strategies.Section 5: Site Selection and Consultation
Carriers must apply a precautionary approach to site selection. In considering a location, they must take into account a range of criteria, including:
- minimising EMR exposure
- avoiding community sensitive locations
- relevant state & council policies.
Carriers must apply a precautionary approach to designing infrastructure so as to minimise RF emissions and exposure, including:
- minimising power while meeting service objectives
- minimising unnecessary RF exposure
- turning off equipment not in use.
Carriers must take a precautionary approach to the operation of a site, including:
- complying with RF standard
- restricting public access to the transmitter.
There are a number of layers in the consultation processes required by the Code.1. Low power infrastructure and fixed radio links:
Carriers must notify councils, owners and immediate residents of all intended low power infrastructure and point-to-point or point-to-multipoint links.2. Infrastructure that does not require council DA at a new site:
The carrier must notify council and any affected adjoining council.
The carrier must conduct community consultation and this must have regard to:
- the aim of informing interested and affected parties
- community sensitive locations
- relevant community stakeholders.
The carrier must place a sign on site, if allowed by council, notifying about the proposal.
The carrier must provide council with a report on the outcome of community consultation.3. Infrastructure that does not need council DA and is at an existing site
The carrier must notify council about its proposal.
The carrier must publish details about the proposal in the public notices section of the local paper inviting public comments.
The carrier must have regard to comments from council and community.Section 6: Health and Safety
Carriers must provide information to the public about health and safety at no charge.
Carriers must provide information to the public at no charge about their facilities and their emissions on request.Section 7: Complaint Handling
Complaints pertain only to how the carrier implements the code.
Carriers must develop procedures for dealing with complaints.
Carriers must record and respond to a complaint within 10 working days of receipt.
If a complainant is dissatisfied, the carrier must provide information about external options for complaints.
The majority of the provisions of the Code will become effective immediately upon registration. However, section 5 (site selection and consultation) and section 7 (handling complaints made under the Code) will become effective six months after registration.
While the Committee made serious efforts to address issues raised in public submissions, many were beyond its ambit. For example, the Code is unable to address the fact that low impact facilities are exempt from council approval because it is overridden by Federal Legislation: the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997. However, the Code does introduce some obligations on carriers for low impact facilities.
Note: The Code has since been revised and details are available in our Community Resource Kit. The 2002 Code was available on the website of the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) at http://www.acif.org.au.
EMR News June 2002, Vol 1 No 2