Telecommunications code

The provisioins of the ACIF Code for the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure will shortly come into effect.

More than three years after the project was begun, the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) Code for the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure is about to be implemented.

Commenced in December 1999, completed in March 2002, registered by the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) on 10 October last year, the Code will be officially enforced from 10 April.

According to the document itself, “The aim of the Code is to deal with the concerns of the community about the risks of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR) exposure by allowing the community and councils to have greater participation in decisions made by Carriers. It cannot change the existing regulatory regime at local, State or Federal level, but can only supplement the existing requirements already imposed on Carriers...

“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” (Explanatory Statement).

Upon registration last October, the Code (with the exception of sections 5 and 7) became mandatory. This meant that carriers were required, for example, to provide information to councils to assist their forward planning and to provide information to the public about health and safety and their facilities and emissions.

For Sections 5 and 7, the ACA allowed a six month phase-in period to allow carriers time to develop procedures for implementing its requirements. This included the training of about 1000 staff and consultants employed by the four major carriers.

Section 5 relates to Site Selection and Consultation and is, perhaps, the most significant section of the Code. It requires carriers to apply a precautionary approach to site selection, taking into account the need to minimise exposure, avoid community-sensitive locations and consider local and state policies. It also requires a precautionary approach to the design of infrastructure so as to reduce exposures to the public. Section 5 also specifies requirements for consulting the public. It ensures that communities are notified about plans for the installation of infrastructure, including low impact facilities which, under existing legislation, do not require the carrier to notify either council or the public.

Section 7 refers to Complaint Handling and pertains only to the manner in which the carrier implements the Code. It requires carriers to develop procedures for dealing with complaints and to respond to complaints within a specified period of time.

A more comprehensive summary of the Code can be found in the June 2002 issue of EMR News.

From April the full contents of the Code will be binding on all carriers, as required by the Telecommunications Act 1997. Carriers who fail to comply may face a direction from the ACA to comply and a fine of up to $250 000.

The ACA has monitored industry's preparations for implementing the code. In November last year ACA Chairman Tony Shaw wrote to each carrier requesting them to outline their progress in preparing for the 10 April deadline. All of the carriers indicated that they were well placed to meet the requirements of the Code.

During the past six months carriers have been working cooperatively, through the Mobile Carrier Forum, to develop a coordinated approach to implementing the requirements of the Code. This includes the development of standardised forms for notifying councils, nearby residents and the community to ensure they can easily interpret information from different carriers; preparation of standard documents to demonstrate compliance with the code, hosting of joint workshops with state local government associations, and provision of information on the MCF website.

According to Brent Gerstle from Optus, Chairman of the ACIF Committee, preparations for implementing the Code have involved the carriers in an enormous amount of work. As well as putting administrative systems in place, carriers have engaged with local councils to provide them with information and advice about the new procedures. At the same time, they have been gradually implementing the requirements of the Code.

[Note: The Code has since been updated.]

EMR News Mar 2003, Vol 2 No 1