This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as
introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest
does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be
consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the
Date Introduced: 3 December 1997
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Communications, the Information Economy and the
Commencement: The amendments described in
this Digest commence on the day on which the Act receives the Royal
To amend the
arrangements for the provision and funding of the National Relay
The NRS is a service that provides people who
are deaf, hearing or speech impaired, with access to the standard
telephone service on terms and conditions, and in circumstances,
that are comparable to those on which other Australians have access
to a standard telephone service.
The NRS provides for a voice-to-text and
text-to-voice human translation for relaying these telephone
At present, the NRS is provided under a contract
between the Commonwealth and Australian Communication Exchange
Limited (ACE). ACE is a community based non-profit organisation.
That contract expires on 30 June 1998.
Under the present wording of the
Telecommunications Act 1997, from 1 July 1998 the NRS will
be provided as part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The
USO is the obligation to ensure that the standard telephone
service, and payphones are reasonably accessible to all people in
Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they arise or carry on
business.(1) Historically, Telstra (and formerly Telecom) has been
the carrier responsible for the fulfilment of the USO. From 1 July
1997, the Minister is empowered to determine a selection system for
choosing a universal service carrier.
Where there is a net loss in fulfilling the USO,
that loss is met by all carriers with each carrier contributing an
amount proportionate to their share of total carrier revenue.
Only carriers are able to be chosen as Universal
Service providers because the fulfilment of the USO requires
ownership or operational control of a telecommunications network.
Consequently under the present law from 1 July 1998, only carriers
would be eligible to provide the NRS. However, provision of the NRS
does not require ownership or control of a telecommunications
network but merely uses existing infrastructure.
This Bill removes the provision of the NRS from
the USO and creates a separate regime for the operation and funding
of the NRS.
The Bill envisages that instead of being
provided as part of the USO, the NRS will continue to be provided
under a contract between the Commonwealth and the NRS provider.
This will enable the NRS to be provided by persons other than
The NRS provider will be obliged to prepare
service plans which must include performance standards to be met by
the NRS provider and timetables for the supply of services
(proposed new section 221B). The Australian
Communications Authority is responsible for monitoring the
performance by the NRS provider of its obligations under the
service plan (proposed new section 221D).
Like the funding for the fulfilment of the USO,
funding requirements for the provision of the NRS will be met by
the imposition of a levy (NRS levy) on all carriers. Carriers will
contribute to the total cost of provision of the service in
proportion to their share of total carrier revenue
(proposed new sections 221F and 221G). The amount
of a carrier required contribution is called the 'NRS contribution
amount'. The NRS levy will be imposed by the NRS Levy
Imposition Act 1997.
The funds generated by the imposition of the NRS
levy are to be credited to the NRS Reserve and payments to the NRS
providers (proposed new section 221I)
- Telecommunications Act 1997, section 149.
5 March 1998
Bills Digest Service
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© Commonwealth of Australia 1997
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