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Your Guide to Australia’s ACMA

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We discuss the following topics in this blog:

  1. What is ACMA, and who are the authorities behind it?
  2. What is the role of ACMA?
  3. What is the Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI)?

In addition to these topics, we shall also be answering the following FAQs:

  1. When was the ACMA established?
  2. Who does the telecommunications Act apply to?
  3. Who runs ACMA?
  4. Which federal government body regulates commercial radio in Australia?
Australia's ACMA

Whether it’s undersea cables or through satellites, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is at the heart of regulating modern-day communications and connectivity in Australia.

ACMA is the acronym for the Australian Communications and Media Authority. It is a statutory body created by the island continent’s federal government to regulate the internet, broadcasting, radio communications, and telecommunications. As Australia tightens its grip on 5G advancement while also addressing the wider issues of malware, spam and cyber-security, ACMA has come under the spotlight for its key role.

Australians' customers Telco Experience research
Source: Australians’ telco experience | ACMA

An Introduction to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)

First, let’s take a quick look at ACMA’s founding and organisation.

ACMA was established on July 1, 2005, after the erstwhile Australian Communications Authority and the Australian Broadcast Authority merged to form one independent statutory authority. This merger was a directive of the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005 by the Government of Australia.

When it comes to its primary purpose, ACMA is majorly responsible for ensuring that the various Australian legislations, regulations, derived standards, and codes of practices pertaining to media and communications are operated efficiently for the economic and social benefit of the nation. Think everything from fixing the local TV reception to issuing radiocommunications licenses.

Organisational Structure

ACMA Structure and Divisions
Source: ACMA

ACMA has been divided into four divisions that are tasked with overseeing daily operations. These are:

  • Communications Infrastructure
  • Content & Consumer
  • Corporate & Research
  • Legal Services

Moving up the hierarchy, these four divisions are overseen by the executive team that consists of the Chair, Deputy Chair/CEO, and the four general managers – one for each division. The executive team is the one with the subject matter expertise. They are involved in activities like operational decision-making, governance reporting and stakeholder management.

The Authority

At the top of the ACMA hierarchy is the Authority that is composed of a Chair, a Deputy Chair, three full-time members, and three associate members. Members, and sometimes even associate members, are appointed by the Governor-General of Australia.

This team is charged with the task of providing overall strategic direction as well as making regulatory and statutory decisions on a host of topics like content, telco consumer problems, compliance and enforcement, and spectrum management.

What are the Roles of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)?

The Australian Communications Media Authority plays the role of a diverse communications/media guide in the country. Anything from preventing citizens from getting spam, or understanding gambling advertising regulation, to guidance on becoming registered cablers or reporting telecom revenue falls under its ambit. In the simplest terms, here’s what the role of ACMA is:

  1. Establish and manage rules about communications, media services and markets
  2. Issue licenses to people, entities and products to operate in Australia
  3. Resolve complaints, compliance issues, and other problems via relevant actions
  4. Plan and manage the airwaves in lieu of next-gen services like 5G
ACMA's Corporate plan 2021-22
Source: ACMA’s Corporate plan 2021–22 | ACMA

One could call ACMA a ‘converged’ regulatory body. Now, what’s that, you ask? Well, there’s no denying that the lines between the various arms of media and communications today are increasingly blurring. Thanks to digitalisation, we are witnessing the convergence of telecommunications, radio communications, broadcasting, and the internet over single platforms.

In such a convergent environment, ACMA collaborates effectively with the industry as well as the society to solve issues and mitigate risks pertaining to the disruption and evolution of the way Australians interact, communicate and consume information. As such, they can investigate any issues related to legislation under various principal acts:

  • Broadcasting Services Act 1992
  • Radiocommunications Act 1992
  • Telecommunications Act 1997
  • Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999
  • Spam Act 2003
  • Do Not Call Register Act 2006
  • Interactive Gambling Act 2001

Above all, ACMA is there to protect consumer interests under the above-mentioned laws. In case of defaulters, ACMA issues warnings and notices, provides remedial direction, accept court-enforceable undertakings and even apply to the Federal Court for civil penalty orders or injunctions. Additionally, it also actively works towards generating consumer awareness and assisting companies and individuals with matters of compliance, licenses or consumer dealings.

ACMA is also playing the emerging role of airwaves spectrum manager in Australia with the primary objective being the reduction of interference and avoidance of unnecessary costs and competition. The regulator aims to plan spectrum allocation in a way that makes it easily accessible to all, especially critical public services like defence and emergency. It also seeks to harmonise spectrum management between Australia and other nations. Under ACMA’s vision, Australia has emerged as a nation with 5G speeds 2X the global average. In fact, in its Five-Year Spectrum Outlook report for 2021-26, it has labelled 2021 as the ‘Year of 5G’ in Australia.

The Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI)

ACSC Annual Cyber Threat Report 2020-21
Source: ACSC Annual Cyber Threat Report 2020-21 | Cyber.gov.au

As was the case with the rest of the world, the pandemic saw an increased dependence on the internet for Australian citizens, businesses and the government. This also meant an increase in cybercrime, posing a threat to information security, computer security and overall IT security of the nation.

According to the ACSC Annual Cyber Threat Report 2020-21, over 67,500 cybercrime incidents were reported – a worrying increase of 13% from the previous year. That’s one cyber-attack every 8 minutes! Some of the key threats that have been identified include:

  • Malicious attacks of spear-phishing and malware on individuals and healthcare providers
  • Exploitation of security vulnerabilities by state-sponsored malicious actors
  • Malicious software like ransomware to extort money, damage reputation, release stolen sensitive data
  • Business email compromise attacks on government and corporates

To counter such cybersecurity threats and incidents of malware attack, ACMA developed the Australian Internet Security Initiative (AISI) – a program that collects and reports bot-like behaviour displayed by computers present in the Australian internet domain. Thus, daily AISI reports are generated to warn ISPs across the nation about malware-compromised computers. In turn, the ISPs then notify the customers and assist them with the fix.

This intervention by AISI is critical because malware is a major threat that, once installed, allows the host computers to be controlled remotely for dangerous and illegal activities. As such, malware can steal sensitive personal information, access the device camera or mic, or form a network comprising of botnets. These botnets further perpetuate and distribute spam and malware, host phishing sites or even initiate distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on critical websites.

The AISI program is run by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) as part of a public-private partnership that involves the country’s internet service providers. Before 2018, AISI was run by CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) Australia.

FAQs

When was the ACMA established?

ACMA was established on July 1, 2005, after the merger of the Australian Broadcasting Authority and the Australian Communications Authority. It was formed under the jurisdiction of the Government of Australia via the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005.

Who does the telecommunications Act apply to?

The Australian Telecommunications Act 1997 applies to two main entities: carriers and service providers. As per the act, carriers are defined as holders of a carrier license that enables them to use certain infrastructure to ‘carry’ communications via guided or unguided electromagnetic energy. On the other hand, a service provider has been defined as any entity that utilises this infrastructure owned by the carrier. 

Who runs ACMA?

The ACMA is an independent statutory authority that is run by the Government of Australia as a regulatory body. Formally, it falls under the responsibilities of the Australian Minister for Communications – a position currently held by Paul Fletcher. ACMA’s day-to-day activities are taken care of by its executive team which comprises the Chair, Deputy Chair/CEO, and four general managers.

Which federal government body regulates commercial radio in Australia?

In Australia, the ACMA (i.e., the Australian Communications and Media Authority) is the federal government body that is responsible for regulating commercial radio. Overall, the ACMA is also mandated with the regulation of the Internet, radiocommunications, telecommunications, and broadcasting in the country.

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