Bills Digest No. 103  1999-2000 Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Amendment Bill 1999


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WARNING:
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 Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage History
Purpose
Background
Main Provisions
Endnotes
Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Passage History

Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Amendment Bill 1999

Date Introduced: 9 December 1999

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Commencement: On Royal Assent.

Purpose

To make minor amendments to the funding arrangements for the national relay service.

Background

What is the National Relay Service (NRS)?

The NRS was introduced in 1995. It provides persons who are deaf or who have impaired hearing with access to a standard telephone service on terms, and in circumstances that are comparable to the access other Australians have to a standard telephone service. The NRS provides for voice-to-text and text-to-voice translation. The average number of NRS calls per day in 1999 was 2200.(1)

The NRS is provided for in Part 3 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Services Standards) Act 1999 (the Act).

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.

The NRS is funded by the imposition of a levy on telecommunications carriers. The levy is imposed in proportion to the carrier's share of the total telecommunications carrier revenue.

Under section 101 of the Act the levy is paid quarterly by carriers to the Australian Communications Authority.

The Bill is required because the timeframe for the collection of the NRS levies provided by the legislation has proved too restrictive. There is a conflict between the contractual timetable for payments by the Commonwealth to the provider and the legislated timetable for carriers to pay the levy to the ACA. The result has been that the Commonwealth has repeatedly been late in making its payments under the contract.

The proposed amendments will extend to timeframes so as to ensure consistency between the Commonwealth's contractual obligations and legislative requirements.

Main Provisions

Section 96(2) of the Act requires the NRS provider to give the minister a written statement of the total costs incurred in running the NRS service within 30 days after the end of each levy quarter. Item 1 extends this time period to the 21st day of the third month after each levy quarter, an extension of approximately 7 weeks.

Section 100 provides for the determination of the NRS levy. The starting point for the total levy is the estimated cost of the NRS in the current quarter. The NRS provider must give the Minister this estimate under section 96. Paragraphs 100(1)(b) and (c) provide that the total levy amount is revised up or down depending upon whether there was a levy surplus or shortfall in the previous quarter. Item 2 amends the section to take into account the extended timeframes. It provides that each quarter's total levy will now be adjusted by reference to the second last quarter before the current quarter.

Item 3 amends section 101. It reduces the period of time carriers have to pay their NRS levy contributions to the ACA by one week. According to the explanatory memorandum the carrier payment date is being brought forward 'to allow the ACA to process the monies received and make the appropriate financial transfers before the contractual date of transfer to the NRS provider'.(2)

Item 4 deals with the commencement of the altered timeframes. The amendments contained in Items 1 and 3 apply to each levy quarter that commences after Royal Assent.

Item 2 will apply to each levy quarter after the first levy quarter following Royal Assent. This is because the reconciliation adjustment will already have been made to the first levy quarter after the commencement of the Act.

Item 5 has the effect of removing the adjustment provision in section 100 for the first quarter after the Act commences. It provides that the total levy for that quarter is the estimated NRS cost for that quarter.

Endnotes

  1. More information on the NRS can be found on the provider's web page www.aceinfo.net.au. See also Adrian Lynch, 'ACE spreading the word', The Australian, 18 Jan 2000.

  2. Explanatory Memorandum, Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Amendment Bill 1999, p. 4.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Mark Tapley
24 January 2000
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members
and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 2000

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 2000.

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