Bills Digest No. 144   1997-98 Telecommunications Amendment Bill (No.2) 1997

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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.


Main Provisions

Date Introduced: 3 December 1997

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts

Commencement: The amendments described in this Digest commence on the day on which the Act receives the Royal Assent.


To amend the arrangements for the provision and funding of the National Relay Service (NRS).


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 calls.

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.

Main Provisions

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 carriers.

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)


  1. Telecommunications Act 1997, section 149.

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Lee Jones
5 March 1998
Bills Digest Service
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ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1997

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

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