Govt mulls more mobile emissions checks

By James Hutchinson on May 15, 2012 8:27 AM
Filed under Communications

Telcos face more independent audits.

The Federal Government is considering whether to change the "risk-based" approach of auditing mobile base stations for electromagnetic emissions after a Senate committee urged action on the issue.

Calls to strengthen compliance checks on mobile sites have increased after the Australian Communications and Media Authority revealed it had audited only 474 licenses for mobile sites from telcos out of a total 18,000 base stations in the past 13 years.

The regulator told a Senate public hearing last month that it had independently measured measured emissions at the "less than a dozen" sites that it had received complaints about from the community.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, which provides advice on safe electromagnetic emission standards but does not maintain compliance checks, had carried out tests on a total 21 sites.

Both agencies instead relied on predictive reports provided by telcos as part of the licensing process undertaken for each new site.

The methodology behind the reports had proven to be highly conservative in estimates of the perceived emissions of those sites, the ACMA said.

But a Senate environment and communications committee called for increased audits of mobile base station sites.

"Whilst recognising resource limitations, the committee urges the ACMA to conduct regular audits of telecommunication installations to ensure, and give confidence to communities, that these installations are compliant with Australian EME emission standards," it said in a final report.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown, who grilled representatives from the agencies and the Department of Broadband on the issue at the public hearing, said the low number of audit checks demonstrated "authorities are not listening to the concerns of the community".

A spokesman for communications minister Stephen Conroy confirmed the Government was considering the committee's recommendation to boost audits but said the ACMA had "sufficient powers" to mandate and audit industry compliance.

"ACMA takes a risk-based approach to ensuring compliance and enforcement with the regulatory regimes that it administers, including [electromagnetic emission] levels," he said.

Despite the committee's call to action, it ultimately opposed Brown's legislation seeking to mandate greater community consultation by telcos for new and upgraded mobile stations.

The legislation is the second piece of its type proposed in the past six months, with an initial attempt for similar amendments from independent MP Andrew Wilkie shot down by a House committee in March.

Both sets of amendments were opposed by their respective committees on the basis of imposing high administrative costs on telcos to enact the rules, and unwittingly calling for overhaul to state and federal legislation boundaries on mobile station regulation.

Brown said in a dissenting report that the Greens would consider the "technical issues" raised by the committee and telcos before re-submitting the proposed amendments.

 
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