Do your country's Telco Regs help or hinder community networks?
Dan Flett <conhoolio <at> hotmail.com>
2007-03-19 05:03:01 GMT
I'm Dan Flett, I'm the President of Melbourne Wireless, a community wireless
group in Australia. Like most of you, we aim to create a non-profit
city-wide network. I'm guessing almost all of you are creating your network
to distribute Internet access to your members and/or the general community.
We would like to do the same, but the problem in Australia is that we need
permission from the Federal Government to do so.
Broadband is a fairly scarce resource here, and it isn't nearly as cheap or
as fast here as in other parts of the world. To provide a reasonable level
of Internet access to our network, we would need to cover our costs. In
order to receive payment in return for internet access in Australia, you
need to have a Carrier Licence. And if you have a Carrier Licence or operate
any sort of ISP you are subject to all sorts of regulations, including the
requirement to provide wiretap access to your network to law enforcement.
Basically, in Australia only commercial Telcos registered with the
Government can offer Internet access and receive money for it - even if it's
only on a cost-recovery basis. The regulatory burden placed on ISPs means
that no volunteer-run non-profit organisation can afford the licence fees or
keep up with the paperwork involved with providing internet access.
I'm interested in hearing if there are similar regulations in other
countries. What regulations is your network subject to? Are individuals or
organisations subject to rules or regulations when they (legally) share or
resell their internet access? Do commercial ISPs in your country see
community networks as competitors?
The letter below is a reply to a query from my predecessor, Melbourne
Wireless President Steven Haigh, from the Australian Federal Department of
Communications - the office of the Minister Helen Coonan. Steven was asking
the Minister to make a "Ministerial Exemption" to exempt Melbourne Wireless
from needing a Carrier Licence. It pretty plainly spells out the
government's current attitude towards community wireless networks.
Frankly, it is embarrassing to see how backward their thinking is.
The major telcos in Australia are complaining about being over-regulated and
being not allowed to roll out Broadband networks on their terms. Australia
has a relatively low penetration of Broadband Internet, despite Australians
generally being early-adopters of new technologies. If the telco regulators
in Australia were serious about encouraging the proliferation of Broadband,
non-profit networks like Melbourne Wireless wouldn't be a threat to
commercial operators. I believe we could quite happily offer Internet on a
non-profit, best-effort basis and no commercial operator would notice.
I eagerly await your feedback on this issue!
President, Melbourne Wireless
president <at> melbournewireless.org.au
#### BEGIN LETTER TO 2006 MELBOURNE WIRELESS PRESIDENT FROM AUSTRALIAN
GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVE ####
Dear Mr Haigh,
CARRIER LICENSING AND EXEMPTIONS
Thank you for your email of 5 March 2006 to the Minister for Communications,
Information Technology and the Arts concerning the operations of Melbourne
Wireless and seeking advice on carrier license exemptions. The Minister has
asked me to reply on her behalf.
I apologise for the delay in responding.
As you would be aware telecommunications licensing is managed by the
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). ACMA recommends that
persons or businesses wishing to apply for a carrier licence, a nominated
carrier declaration, or operating as a service provider should familiarise
themselves with these provisions of the Telecommuncations Act 1997 and the
Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999.
The Telecommunications Act (Section 51) allows the Minister to grant an
exemption from the obligation to hold a telecommunications carrier license.
While this power exists, its use is limited. The obligation to hold a
carrier license and the related requirements associated with being a
licensed carrier are important to assure strong law enforcement, consumer
protection and service standards are met.
As a general rule, carrier license exemptions are only granted in
exceptional circumstances and where the exemption would not have a negative
impact on, or would benefit, the long term interested of telecommunications
users. An important consideration in this regard is whether the exempted
operator would compete with, and be advantaged relative to commercial
To ensure the similar treatment of fixed line and wireless networks under
the Telecommunications Act, a Ministerial Determination was issued in 2002
so that operators of wireless local area networks that provide services and
single premises did not require a carrier license or nominated carrier
While I appreciate that you consider the service that you provide offer
community benefits, it would also be offered in competition with other
licensed operators as a commercial venture. As such, any exemption would not
be competitively neutral. It is unlikely, therefore, that a carrier license
exemption would be granted in these circumstances.
The Government recognises that license fees should not present an
unreasonable barrier to entry for telecommunications service providers. In
line with this, the carrier license charges were significantly reduced on 1
July 2004. The carrier license application charge was decreased from $10,000
to $2,200 and the fixed component of the annual carrier license charge fell
from $10,000 to less than $1,000. Several small scale service providers have
applied for, and received, carrier licenses under this reduced fee
Detailed information on carrier licensing and carriage service provider
obligations is provided by the ACMA at www.acma.gov.au (licensing), or can
be obtained by calling Mr Peter Skeen, Assistant Manager, Telecommunications
Licensing on 03 #### ####.
Thank you for bringing your concerns to the Minister's attention.