No matter where in Australia you come from, it’s an inescapable fact that you now live in a digital world. How you use, interact with and consume media and communications is unrecognisable from even 10 years ago—and the changes just keep on coming. It’s an exciting time but one that’s full of challenges—for you, the consumer and citizen; for industry, the provider of the goods and services you use every day; and for government—as an independent federal government agency, that’s where the ACMA comes in. And it’s likely that we already touch your life in some way—you just may not know it.
The ACMA is Australia’s regulator for broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications, and we aim to make media and communications work in the public interest. But what does that actually mean?
Well, it may surprise you, but the ACMA is active from outer space to the depths of the sea. From satellites and spectrum that power wireless communications to the ocean cables that connect Australia to the world. And we do this from Burnie to Bunbury, from Broome to Brisbane.
Do you have an automatic garage door, use a mobile phone, watch television or use social networking? If the answer is yes, then we’re a part of your everyday life—and we’re here to help.
Each day, you probably use heaps of different devices and tools—television, radio, the internet, mobile, tablet, landline, VoIP, SMS, apps, blogging and social networking—for communication, information and entertainment.
As the regulator, we don’t control these services and we don’t provide them. What we do is make sure they are available, reliable, safe and equitable by working with industry and government to plan, allocate, monitor and educate—using our powers of enforcement if and when we need to. While we may not ever have direct contact with you, we use our position of influence and our charter of responsibilities to give you an innovative, up-to-date and fair media and communications environment.
Day-to-day, this means we do an incredibly wide range of jobs. We help stop those pesky dinnertime marketing calls by running the Do Not Call Register, educating and investigating marketers, and enforcing telemarketing and anti-spam laws. We monitor the Numbering Plan so Australia doesn’t run out of phone numbers, and investigate complaints about prohibited internet content. We give emergency services access to the communications channels they need to save lives, and maintain the undersea submarine cables that carry international voice and data traffic.
We also establish technical and labelling standards so the electrical equipment you buy is safe and functional, and monitor whether telco providers and TV and radio broadcasters are living up to their required codes of practice. We plan the spectrum channels that radio, TV and phone services use, and ensure that disadvantaged Australians or those who live with a disability can access the same basic communications services as their neighbours. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We do all these things with specific powers granted by legislation and in an environment that changes daily. Regulating media and communications is now so complicated because the convergence of devices, platforms and services—watching TV on your mobile, for example—means that the boundaries of responsibility, access and ownership are no longer clear.
In this converged landscape, just about anyone can publish and distribute information online—with some potentially dangerous consequences. We have to educate a generation that has never known a world without the internet or social networking. Our Cybersmart education programs are an essential—and tangible—part of our role to make communications and media safe for all Australians. Equally, our Reconnecting the Customer public inquiry into telecommunications customer service and complaints-handling was an important and high-profile project that has been widely praised for its comprehensive recommendations that have improved your communications experience.
Not all of our work is so visible. But, while projects like the VAST satellite service (for remote viewers who can’t access regular digital television services) and the reallocation, reissue and auction of spectrum licences in a range of bands (so your garage door keeps opening and your mobile keeps ringing) may not be splashed across the front page of the paper, they’re vital to Australia. And they require a unique level of expertise that the ACMA provides.
This specialised knowledge is further underpinned by our commitment to being an evidence-informed regulator. Our research program—researchacma—keeps us ahead of the game by allowing us to document and build evidence, inform public debate, and educate both our stakeholders and the general public about trends, challenges and opportunities in media and communications.
It may be seen as something of a contradiction in such an ever-changing and fast-moving digital environment, but some of our activities require rigorous deliberation. A prominent example is our investigations into viewer complaints against broadcasters. In this area, we advocate considered judgement over a summary execution and will continue to undertake a detailed exploration of events to deliver the right outcome.
What is never in doubt is that all our work will be done independently and professionally, with the public interest as the guiding principle.