Mobile network deployment regulation
The deployment of mobile network infrastructure in Australia is covered by legislation and regulation from all three levels of government including:
- Federal: Requirements under Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act, the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination (as amended), the Telecommunications Code of Practice, and the Communications Alliance Industry Code for Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure,
- State: State Planning and Environmental Policies, Planning Schemes and Instruments,
- Local: Local planning policies and development approval and consent processes.
All three levels of government also regulate consultation and notification processes in some form.
To encourage the efficient and timely deployment of mobile network infrastructure in Australia, the current framework includes some exemptions from State and Territory planning and environmental laws. These exemptions are contained in the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018 and Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.
Importantly, to ensure community concerns and expectations about mobile network deployment are met, community notification and consultation associated with facilities that are deemed “Low Impact” or do not require planning approval under State and Territory legislation are regulated by the Communications Alliance Industry Code for Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure (the Code).
Development and operation of mobile phone base stations
The Telecommunications Act 1997 requires telecommunications carriers to comply with State and Territory laws in relation to the installation of telecommunications facilities, except where the facilities are classified as “Low-impact Facilities”.
The Telecommunications Act 1997 recognises that there are some telecommunications facilities and activities that are considered essential to building and maintaining telecommunications networks, but do not have a high visual impact. These facilities are commonly referred to as “Low-impact Facilities” and are described in the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997. Low-impact Facilities are exempt from State and Territory planning laws.
The Telecommunications Act 1997 also sets out carriers’ powers and obligations with regards to:
- inspecting land for the purposes of selecting sites;
- accessing land to install a facility; and
- accessing land to conduct maintenance works.
The Telecommunications Code of Practice 2021 clarifies carriers’ obligations when they are exercising powers under the Telecommunications Act 1997.
Telecommunications carriers must comply with C564:2020 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code. This Code, commonly referred to as the “Deployment Code”, is designed to:
- allow the community and councils to have greater participation in decisions made by Carriers when deploying mobile phone base stations; and,
- provide greater transparency to local community and councils when a Carrier is planning, selecting sites for, installing and operating Mobile Phone Radiocommunications Infrastructure.
The Code complements other regulatory and legislative requirements by ensuring greater community consultation and participation in the installation of new facilities (particularly in relation to those new facilities that do not require planning approval) and requires carriers to apply a precautionary approach during the site selection, design and operation of communications facilities. This mandatory code is registered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and has been in place since 2002 with formal reviews in 2004, 2011 and 2018.
State and Territory Planning Policies
Some States and Territories have adopted policies that facilitate the development of certain types of mobile phone network facilities. In these circumstances, State and Territory planning provisions provide additional exemptions from the need to secure planning approval provided that facilities meet certain requirements relating to size, design or location.