Australian Communications and Media Authority
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|Australian Communications and Media Authority|
|Formation||1 July 2005|
|Chairman and CEO||Chris Chapman|
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is an Australian government statutory authority within the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Australia) (DBCDE) portfolio. The ACMA is tasked with ensuring most elements of Australia's media and communications legislation, related regulations, and numerous derived standards and codes of practice operate effectively and efficiently, and in the public interest.
The ACMA is also a 'converged' regulator, created to bring together the threads of the evolving communications universe, specifically in the Australian context the convergence of the four 'worlds' of telecommunications, broadcasting, radiocommunications and the internet. The ACMA was formed on 1 July 2005 by a merger of the responsibilities of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority. It was created, as least in part, to respond to the observed and anticipated changes brought about by this convergence and is one of only a handful of converged communications regulators in the world.
The ACMA is an independent agency with the Authority composed of the Chairman, Deputy Chair, one full-time Member, five part-time Members, and one Associate Member. The ACMA is managed by an executive team comprising the Chairman (who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the agency), the Deputy Chair, the full-time Member, six general managers and 16 executive managers. The corporate structure comprises six divisions - Digital Transition, Communications Infrastructure, Digital Economy, Content, Consumer and Citizen, Corporate Services and Coordination, and Legal Services.
The ACMA has responsibilities under four principle Acts - the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the Radiocommunications Act 1992. There are another 22 Acts to which the agency responds in such areas as spam, the Do Not Call Register, and interactive gambling. The ACMA also creates and administers more than 523 legislative instruments including radiocommunications, spam and telecommunications regulations, and licence area plans for free-to-air broadcasters.
The ACMA collects revenue on behalf of the Australian Government through broadcasting, radiocommunications and telecommunications taxes, charges and licence fees. It also collects revenue from price-based allocation of spectrum.
ACMA offices are located in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. A total of 586 staff (full-time equivalence) were employed by the ACMA at the end of November 2011.
Convergence and change
Communications "convergence" is the merging of the previously distinct services by which information is communicated - telephone, television (free-to-air and subscription) radio and newspapers - over digital platforms. Therefore, not only does the ACMA address a wide and disparate range of responsibilities, it does so against a backdrop of rapid and disruptive change.
Many of the controls on the production and distribution of content and the provision of telecommunications services through licensing or other subsidiary arrangements, or by standards and codes (whether co-regulatory or self-regulatory) are subject to revision and adaptation to the digital economy. Moreover, there are new platforms, applications, business models, value chains and forms of social interaction available with more to come in what is a dynamic, innovative environment. Other challenges for regulators include cross-jurisdictional issues and the need for engagement and collaboration with stakeholders locally, regionally and internationally. The ACMA response to these pressures is to remain constantly relevant by delivering on its mandated outcomes and its statutory obligations, and by transforming itself into a resilient, e-facing, learning organisation, responsive to the numerous pressures for change that confront it.
The ACMA has developed a 'converged communications regulator' framework which seeks to bring to the global discussion a 'common ground' which can capture the fundamental tasks any regulator in a convergent environment will engage with to deliver outcomes in the public interest. The four cornerstone parts to the framework, each divided into two sub-streams, are outlined below along with the main functions of the ACMA under each task.
Bridging to the future - active engagement with the currents of change and proactive development of responses through thought leadership and regulatory development:
- reviewing industry standards and codes of practice
- developing more flexible licensing
- updating spectrum management tools for spectrum sharing technologies
- research and analysis to provide evidence-informed regulatory development
Transforming the agency - adapting the organisation to the changing world of convergence by ensuring a structural fit with convergence and a focus on agency innovation:
- creating resilience through transformational capacity/capability training
- evidence-based reporting on industry performance, service offerings, consumer benefits, levels of adoption and use
- development and administration of spam intelligence database
- researching best practice regulatory review and reform
- developing and implementing an evidence-based approach to tracking industry performance during digital TV transition
Major program delivery - undertaking major development work or program implementation through resource and program management with fully effective corporate governance:
- development and implementation of a national cybersafety education program
- administering the Do Not Call Register
- administering contracts for phone services for people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impediment
- developing and implementing a corporate governance framework and ICT strategic plan
Effective regulation - doing the 'day job' of the regulatory agency with effective and efficient regulatory administration and operations coupled with extensive stakeholder engagement:
- regulating telecommunications and broadcasting services, internet content and datacasting services
- managing access to the radiofrequency spectrum bands through radiocommunications licensing
- resolving competing demands for spectrum through broadcasting licence arrangements and price-based allocation methods
- regulating use of the radio-frequency spectrum and helping in minimising radio communications interference
- regulating compliance with the relevant legislation, licence conditions, codes of practice, standards, service guarantees and other safeguards
- promoting and facilitating industry self-regulatory and co-regulatory solutions
- representing Australia's interests internationally (see International Telecommunications Union)
- informing industry and consumers about communications regulation.
Internet censorship and criticisms
||This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. (November 2010)|
Since January 2000, internet content considered offensive or illegal has been subject to a statutory scheme administered by the ACMA.
Established under Schedule 5 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the online content scheme evolved from a tradition of Australian content regulation in broadcasting and other entertainment media. This tradition embodies the principle that – while adults should be free to see, hear and read what they want – children should be protected from material that may be unsuitable for (or harmful to) them, and everyone should be protected from material that is highly offensive.
The online content scheme seeks to achieve these objectives by a number of means such as complaint investigation processes, government and industry collaboration, and community awareness and empowerment. While administration of the scheme is the responsibility of the ACMA, the principle of ‘co-regulation’ underpinning the scheme reflects parliament’s intention that government, industry and the community each plays a role in managing internet safety issues in Australia. The ACMA has a significant cyber safety education program called CyberSmart which provides resources for youth, parents and teachers.
Some people strongly disagree with this approach.[who?] They say the Australian constitution does not clearly provide either the states or the Federal Government power to censor online content, so internet censorship in Australia is typically an amalgam of various plans, laws, acts and policies. The regulator has been criticised for its role in examining internet censorship in Australia and how it is enabled and might further be enabled. Particular criticism has been leveled at the regulator's technical understanding of what is involved overall in internet regulation and censorship.
On 10 March 2009, the ACMA issued the Australian web-hosting company, Bulletproof Networks, with an "interim link-deletion notice" due to its customer, the Whirlpool internet community website, not deleting a link to a page on an anti-abortion web site. The web page, which is the 6th of a series of pages featuring images of aborted babies, had been submitted to the ACMA, who determined it was potential prohibited content, by the user whose post on Whirlpool containing the ACMA's reply was later subject to the link-deletion notice. This came with an A$11,000 per day fine if the take down was not actioned after 24 hours. In order for other URLs contained on the same website to be 'prohibited', a separate complaint would need to be submitted and reviewed by the ACMA.
ACMA blacklist leaked
On 19 March 2009 it was reported that the ACMA's blacklist of banned sites had been leaked online, and had been published by Wikileaks. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, obtained the blacklist after the ACMA blocked several Wikileaks pages following their publication of the Danish blacklist. Assange said that "This week saw Australia joining China and the United Arab Emirates as the only countries censoring Wikileaks." Three lists purporting to be from the ACMA were published online over a seven-day period.
The leaked list, which was reported to have been obtained from a manufacturer of internet filtering software, contained 2395 sites. Approximately half of the sites on the list were not related to child pornography, and included online gambling sites, YouTube pages, gay, straight, and fetish pornography sites, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions, Christian sites, and even the websites of a tour operator and a Queensland dentist. Colin Jacobs, spokesman for lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said that there was no mechanism for a site operator to know they got on to the list or to request to be removed from it. Australia's Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy later blamed the addition of the dentist's website to the blacklist on the "Russian mob".
Associate professor Bjorn Landfeldt of the University of Sydney said that the leaked list "constitutes a condensed encyclopedia of depravity and potentially very dangerous material". Stephen Conroy said the list was not the real blacklist and described its leak and publication as "grossly irresponsible" and that it undermined efforts to improve "cyber safety". He said that ACMA was investigating the incident and considering a range of possible actions including referral to the Australian Federal Police, and that Australians involved in making the content available would be at "serious risk of criminal prosecution".
Conroy initially denied that the list published on Wikileaks and the ACMA blacklist were the same, saying "This is not the ACMA blacklist." He stated that the leaked list was alleged to be current on 6 August 2008 and contained 2,400 URLs, where the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1,061 URLs. He added that the ACMA advised that there were URLs on the leaked list that had never been the subject of a complaint or ACMA investigation, and had never been included on the ACMA blacklist. He was backed up by ISP Tech 2U, one of six ISPs involved in filtering technology trials.
Conroy's denial was called into doubt by the Internet Industry Association (IIA), who publicly condemned the publishing of the list, chief executive Peter Coroneos saying, "No reasonable person could countenance the publication of links which promote access to child abuse images, irrespective of their motivation, which in this case appears to be political."
Conroy later claimed the leaked blacklist published on Wikileaks closely resembled the official blacklist, admitting that the latest list (dated 18 March) "seemed to be close" to ACMA's current blacklist.
In an estimates hearing of the Australian Federal Government on 25 May 2009  it was revealed that the leak was taken so seriously that it was referred to the Australian Federal Police for investigation. It was further stated that distribution of further updates to the list have been withheld until recipients can improve their security. Ms Nerida O'Laughlin of the ACMA confirmed that the list has been reviewed and as of 30 April consists of 997 urls.
- "Broadcasting Services Act 1992 - Schedule 5". Commonwealth of Australia. Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "A Brief History of Internet Regulatory Proposals/Activity in Australia". Electronic Frontiers Australia. January 2000. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- "Internet Censorship Laws in Australia". Electronic Frontiers Australia. 31 March 2006. Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- Foo, Fran (13 March 2009). "ACMA takes aim at Whirlpool, supplier". The Australian. Retrieved 18 February 2010.[dead link]
- Foo, Fran (24 February 2009). "Row over web blacklist". The Australian. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- Moses, Asher (17 March 2009). "Banned hyperlinks could cost you $11,000 a day". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Tung, Liam (19 March 2009). "Wikileaks spills ACMA blacklist". ZDNet Australia. Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
- Lake, Chloe (25 March 2009). "Stephen Conroy says leaked list of banned websites 'seems like ACMA's blacklist'". news.com.au.
- Moses, Asher (27 March 2009). "Conroy admits blacklist error, blames 'Russian mob'". The Age.
- MacBean, Nic (19 March 2009). "Leaked blacklist irresponsible, inaccurate: Conroy". ABC News.
- Moses, Asher (19 March 2009). "Blacklisted websites revealed". Brisbane Times.
- Luscombe, Belinda (27 March 2009). "A Blacklist for Websites Backfires in Australia". TIME.
- "Official Committee Hansard", Commonwealth of Australia (Australian Parliament House), 25 May 2009, retrieved 18 February 2010
- Australian Communications and Media Authority
- ACMA's AM/FM/DTV broadcast station listings
- AUBroadband — "Information about various broadband plans and availability of fibre optic broadband in Australia"
- Search ACMA's database