ARN

Government moves to increase nbn build powers

Proposes changes that would reduce land owners' ability to object to nbn installations

The Australian Government is proposing changes to the nation's telecommunications laws that could reduce landowner’s ability to fight nbn installations on their property.

The Government has released a public consultation paper on proposed changes to telecommunications carrier powers and immunities laws as it looks to reclassify mobile phone antenna installations.

“Carrier powers and immunities are designed to strike the right balance between the community's need to access reliable, affordable telecommunications services while ensuring that local governments and communities have a say in the deployment of major telecommunications infrastructure,” Federal Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, said in a statement.

 At the heart of the proposed changes is telcos' right to install new infrastructure and maintain existing facilities. This affects all carriers, but primarily nbn, the company responsible for building Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN). 

The organisation has come under fire for its dealings with city and local councils including in Ballarat.

Telstra has had its own share of issues including a legal battle with Brisbane City Council over mobile coverage facilities. The telco also had a stoush with Broken Hill Council in 2015.

“Today, telecommunications carriers have a range of powers and immunities to allow for the installation and maintenance of certain network facilities, such as pillars and antennas, quickly and cost-effectively. This helps ensure Australians have better access to the telecommunications services they need,” Fifield said.

“The changes seek to clarify the operation of some existing powers and immunities, allow for the deployment of new types of network infrastructure, make changes to some existing facility types, and streamline notification and objection rules.”

The government said its proposed changes would clarify the operation of existing powers and immunities such as heritage overlays; allow some increases in the size of existing facilities like solar cells; allow some new type of facilities such as lens antennas; allow some types of facilities in new areas like omnidirectional antennas.

Crucially though, the new laws would alter some land owner and occupier notification and objection timeframes and processes in the Tel Code and, potentially, enable temporary or replacement towers or extensions to be installed in some limited circumstances.

While the Government said the installation of freestanding mobile towers is not a subject of the consultation paper, as these towers are subject to state and territory planning requirements, the latter two of the proposed changes could potentially diminish the rights of property owners to object to NBN installation.

The government said changes canvassed in the consultation paper could allow carriers to better meet the needs of consumers at lower cost, and simultaneously reduce the burden on Government in the administration of these regulations. 

The government said the proposed changes could save $150 million in “costs and economic and social productivity benefits for consumers.”

The Department of Communications and the Arts is seeking feedback on whether the changes should proceed, and if so, in what form. Interested parties, including local governments, community groups and industry are encouraged to comment.