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Cunliffe: Communications Legislation Bill

COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION BILL

FIRST READING SPEECH 11 May 2006

MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS

Introduction

Madam Speaker, I move that the Communications Legislation Bill be read a first time

· This Bill is a largely technical measure that is designed to prevent unintended consequences, to correct certain anomalies in wording of the present legislation and to deal with some timing issues.

· The Bill is narrow in scope as demonstrated by there being just one substantive clause that amends the Telecommunications Act in Part A of the Bill.

· The Bill is not related to any decisions on the broader telecommunications stocktake.

· This Bill was introduced to Parliament on 6 April 2006, well prior to finalisation of stocktake decisions.

· Those broader matters will be considered through separate and later legislation.

· But this Bill contains a number of urgent technical matters that need not, and should not, await that wider review process.

· The Communications Legislation Bill is an omnibus Bill, which amends both the Telecommunications Act 2001 and the Radiocommunications Act 1989.

· The Bill will contribute to improving the efficient operation of the communications sector of the economy as a part of the economic transformation of New Zealand society.

A robust, up to date communications sector is an essential part of an innovative, growing economy.

· This Bill maintains a commercial environment of certainty and confidence for both telecommunications services and use of the radio frequency spectrum.

· This will benefit both producers and consumers of goods and services, be they providers of telecommunications services, radio spectrum licensees, or customers, viewers or listeners.

Key Objectives and Provisions of the Bill

Part 1 - Telecommunications

Part 1 of the Bill amends the Telecommunications Act 2001.

· It extends by two years to December 2008 the regulation of 10 of the services originally regulated under the Act.

· Regulation of these services is due to expire in December 2006 unless extended by an Order in Council on the recommendation of the Minister, following an investigation by the Commerce Commission.

· The necessary investigations by the Commission are underway, but final decisions may not be able to be acted on by December 2006.

· Full investigations necessarily require a thorough process, utilise the scarce resources of the Commission, and take time to finalise.

· However telecommunications service providers and customers need as much certainty as is practicable and it is undesirable for recommendations on renewal of regulation or otherwise to be made without proper scrutiny.

This Bill therefore extends the regulation of the 10 services until 2008.

· The Commission can still make any necessary investigations and regulation of services can be discontinued, if that is seen as appropriate, by a similar process of recommendations and order in Council that would normally extend regulation.

Part 2 – Radiocommunications

Part 2 of the Bill amends the Radiocommunications Act 1989.

· Again the amendments are largely of a technical nature but are critical for the efficient functioning of the regulatory environment for services that require use of the radio frequency spectrum.

Certification of Licences

· The present legislation provides for proposed new licences to be assessed against existing licences to ensure that the new use is technically compatible.

· The Act requires a certificate to be provided by a suitable qualified and approved radio engineer attesting to the technical compatibility prior to registration on the public register.

· Put simply, accommodating poor quality receivers can limit the spectrum available for new licences and lower the economic utilisation of the radio frequency spectrum as a whole.

This Bill therefore establishes a process whereby inappropriate receivers are not to be taken into account in certification of new licences.

· The need for this provision is underscored by current issues regarding receivers in vehicles for VHF-FM broadcasting reception.

· Used vehicles imported from Japan are normally fitted with a FM receiver which can only receive 2 or 3 FM stations in New Zealand, because the FM band used in Japan is different from the international band used in New Zealand.

· The best option for consumers or dealers is to fit a new radio on importation, but some importers or vehicle dealers have fitted a cheaper device known as a band expander to allow reception of more stations.

· These devices have inherent limitations and in some circumstances will give degraded, or no reception, of particular stations.

· Whilst it is a consumer choice not to install a New Zealand specification radio receiver, that choice should not deny normal efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum for other listeners with New Zealand standard receivers. This becomes increasingly important as further use of the VHF-FM band is being planned.

Aggregation of management rights in time

· The present Radiocommunications Act provides for management rights and underlying spectrum licences to be created for periods up to 20 years.

· This gives certainty of investment for services using the radio spectrum. In addition, management rights (termed successive management rights) can be created prior to expiry of existing rights, but as separate rights.

The Bill allows, in limited circumstances, the aggregation in time of an existing management right and a successive right.

· This will facilitate an efficient transition from one right to the next and give improved certainty and efficiency in the Radiocommunications sector as rights created from 1990 onwards reach their 20 year expiry date from 2010 onwards.

Other provisions

· The Bill includes provisions to allow radio licensees to resolve any contentious issues by arbitration, in a similar manner to the existing provisions for commercially allocated spectrum licences.

· Issues concerning radio licences, which are issued administratively, have previously been resolved by decisions of the Ministry.

· The other provisions facilitate electronic processing by removing references to duplicate copies, correct wording relating to the expiry of successive management rights, improve the efficient recovery of unpaid Regulation Fees, and give amended Regulation making powers.

All of these amendments are intended to maintain and enhance the efficient operation of the regime prescribed in the A+ ct.

· The communications sector is subject to rapid changes in technologies and, therefore, in services.

· It is also characterised by long-term investment in physical infrastructure assets.

· These characteristics require a regulatory environment that allow a fair return to those who own the infrastructure assets, but one that is able also to keep pace with the rapid changes in technologies and services.

· This Bill is a relatively small, but important step in New Zealand keeping its regulatory environment up to date.

· The issues are quite narrowly focussed, relatively urgent and need to be dealt with now.

· Wider legislative changes will be proposed later this year, in order to progress decisions from the stocktake, but those provisions are necessarily more detailed and will benefit from a fulsome discussion in the select committee in due course.

Conclusion

· Madam Speaker, the Communications Legislation Bill is an important piece of legislation.

· It is acknowledged as being largely technical in nature, but it is critical to maintaining and improving the efficiency of the communications sector.

· It does not pre-empt decisions of the Commerce Commission, but does allow their expert view on continued regulation or otherwise of communications services to be adopted in sensible time frames within the resources available.

· It deals with matters that are both urgent and necessary in the sector. The Bill will avoid unintended consequences in both telecommunications and radiocommunications;

· By preventing the unplanned expiry of regulation on a narrow range of communications services; and

· By giving the legal certainty to allow the full use of the radio spectrum, despite some listeners choosing to use inappropriate radio receivers such as band expanders.

· The Bill also deals with enhancing the regime in the Radiocommunications Act in several minor but important ways.

As such I commend this Bill to this House

ENDS

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