This guide gives an overview of what carriers can and can’t do when proposing a mobile phone base station facility, and your rights as a member of the public. For more detailed information, see the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code C564:2018, which has been developed by Communications Alliance (CA).
Broadly speaking, the code sets out:
- carriers’ rights and responsibilities for the design, deployment, installation and operation of mobile phone base stations
- safeguards to ensure communities and local councils are informed when low-impact facilities are being placed near them
- requirements for carriers to provide information to the public (on request) about the radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (EME) characteristics of facilities.
The ACMA registered the code on 17 December 2018, and may use its powers under Part 26 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Telco Act) to investigate breaches.
What does the code do?
Who must comply with the code?
What’s our role in enforcing compliance?
To what types of facilities does the code apply?
What are low-impact facilities?
Can the ACMA stop construction of a facility or have an existing one relocated?
What are low-impact facilities?
Where does the Code fit into the current regulatory environment?
How can I have a say about a proposed facility?
What EME information must a carrier give me about a site?
How do I interpret an ARPANSA EME site report?
Who should I contact if I want a site independently assessed for EME?
How can I contact the operator of a facility?
Contact the ACMA
The purpose of the code is to ensure that local communities, councils, and interested and affected parties (IAPs) are informed, consulted and engaged when a mobile phone base station facility is being proposed or built in their local area.
To achieve this, the code contains a number of provisions, including:
- encouraging collaboration between carriers, local councils and the community
- identifying community-sensitive locations at an early stage
- making information about new mobile phone base stations more accessible through the Radiofrequency National Site Archive (a community consultation web portal).
For a complete list of code objectives, see Clause 1.4 of the code.
In the majority of cases, the code applies to Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and TPG (PIPE Networks), as they are the main providers of a public mobile telecommunications service (PMTS).
NBN Co Limited is not obligated to comply as it doesn’t supply a PMTS, but it does follow, on a voluntary basis, some elements of the code when deploying its fixed wireless towers. For example, it publishes the community notification letter, design drawings and EME environmental report on the Radiofrequency National Site Archive.
The ACMA can accept a complaint from a member of the public who believes that the carrier has contravened the code.
If we decide to investigate an alleged contravention of the code under Part 26 of the Telco Act, and a contravention is found, we will determine what, if any, compliance or enforcement action should be taken against the carrier.
If we find a contravention of the code, we have the power to:
- issue a formal warning
- give a direction to comply with the code going forward.
If a carrier has been given a direction and subsequently breaches that direction (for example, by contravening the code again), the ACMA can issue an infringement notice or start proceedings in the Federal Court seeking a financial penalty.
For more information, please see the ACMA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy.
The code applies to four main types of facilities:
Mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure at a new site
Free-standing mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure at a new site
Mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure at an existing site
Low RF power mobile radiocommunications infrastructure and fixed radio links at a new or existing site
No. It is not within the ACMA’s regulatory remit to stop construction of a proposed facility or to have an existing facility relocated.
The Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018 (the Determination) specifies the types of facilities that qualify as low-impact. A facility cannot be a low-impact facility (LIF) unless it is specified in the Determination.
Whether a particular facility proposed to be installed by a carrier is a low-impact facility will depend on:
- the type of facility—radio facilities, underground/above-ground housings, underground/above-ground facilities (for fixed-line networks), public payphones, emergency facilities and co-located facilities
- the type of area the facility is proposed to be installed in—residential, commercial, industrial or rural).
In addition, a facility located in an environmentally significant area, such as a World Heritage Site or an area identified to be of significance to Aboriginal persons or Torres Strait Islanders, cannot be designated a low-impact facility.
We don’t have a role in either authorising or assessing a proposed facility installation. The carrier determines whether or not the proposed facility is considered a low-impact facility in accordance with the Determination.
Set out below is an overview of current regulatory arrangements for base stations administered by the ACMA:
- The Determination lists the types of facilities that are defined as low-impact.
- Part 1 of Schedule 3 to the Telco Act authorises a carrier to enter on land and exercise its power to inspect the land, install a facility and maintain a facility.
- The Telecommunications Code of Practice 2018 (Code of Practice) sets out certain conditions to be complied with by carriers in relation to inspecting land, installing and maintaining a facility.
- Carriers seeking to install a low-impact facility must comply with the Determination, Schedule 3 to the Telco Act and the Code of Practice. If the facility is not a low-impact facility (for example, it is a free-standing mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure at a new site), these instruments won’t apply.
- Mobile phone radiocommunications infrastructure and other fixed-wireless infrastructure must comply with the ACMA’s mandatory exposure limits for EME. Further information about EME can be found at the ACMA’s EME consumer hub here.
During the public consultation period you are able to make a submission to:
- the carrier or its authorised representative (if the proposed facility is not subject to a development application), or
- the council or relevant planning body (if the proposed facility is subject to development application).
Note: Consultation and notification requirements depend on the relevant council, state or territory planning laws and policies applicable to the specific development at the specific location.
If you remain dissatisfied with the outcome of the public consultation process, you are able to lodge a formal complaint to the carrier or the carrier’s authorised representative under clause 9 of the Code.
If you believe the carrier has contravened certain clause(s) of the Code, you may make a complaint to the ACMA.
Please see the how to submit a complaint web page for more information.
Carriers must provide radiofrequency EME health and safety information to the public at no charge. For a specific site, the information a carrier must provide to the public (on request) includes:
- a description of the radiofrequency infrastructure on the site
- the operating frequency of the radiofrequency transmitter
- a declaration that its infrastructure complies with the ACMA mandatory limits for general public exposure to radiofrequency EME
- coverage information
- information about how it addresses EME health and safety issues for their networks
- information about where research reports on the health and safety impacts of radiofrequency infrastructure may be obtained
- the levels of exposure to EME in accordance with the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) EME site report.
For more comprehensive information about EME, visit the ARPANSA website or our EME consumer hub, which has information on our role and associated regulatory responsibilities.
The EME site report provides objective estimates of the maximum levels of EME from the wireless base station before the installation of new or upgraded equipment.
Information typically found in an EME site report includes:
- the address of the installation
- a list of the carriers using the site
- the types of mobile network(s) currently installed and being proposed
- details of calculated levels of radiofrequency EME.
The tables of calculated EME levels in the report provide maximum levels of EME found at various distances from the base of the tower or supporting structure. Within each range of distances, the highest value is given regardless of direction.
When a value is expressed as a percentage, a value of 100 per cent corresponds to the general public exposure limit. For example, a typical maximum EME level of one per cent means that the total EME level from all wireless network transmitters on the site, all operating at their maximum power, will be no more than one-hundredth (1/100) of the limit set by the ARPANSA Standard for members of the public.
Further information about understanding EME site reports can be found on the ARPANSA website.
For an independent assessment of a site for EME (at your own cost), the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) has accredited a number of organisations in Australia that measure and assess radiofrequency field strengths.
First, you will need to identify the operator of the relevant facility—typically Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or TPG. However, in some cases, two or more carriers may have formed a ‘joint venture’ (JV), with one particular carrier taking the lead role, or a carrier or JV has appointed an authorised representative to act on their behalf.
So the easiest way for you to find specific contact details is to visit the RFNSA website.
General contact details for each carrier are:
Consultation Strategy Manager
Mobile Network Deployment Group
Community Relations Manager
Online contact form: https://www.tpg.com.au/support/general_form.php
For more information, contact:
Networks and National Interests Section
Australian Communications and Media Authority
PO Box 13112 Law Courts
Melbourne VIC 8010
Phone: 1300 850 115