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ACMA flags more ‘agile’ regulatory future

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The days of “black letter law” regulation are numbered, according to ACMA chairman and CEO Chris Chapman, with technology changing and converging faster than legislation can keep up.

Delivering the ACS / Telecommunications Society Charles Todd Oration yesterday, Chapman said the fast-moving telecommunications environment demands an “ongoing reassessment of when regulation is required”, and that the future will require “regulation that is fit for purpose” and a “vastly more agile ACMA”.

Recognising that such a stance places the regulator at risk of finding itself in the same kind of lawyerly leg-roping that often immobilizes the FCC in America, Chapman said the future demands a “top-down philosophical reassessment of the way in which legislation … regulatory instruments and intervention is accomplished.”

The ACMA’s ability to respond to regulatory demands demand that both consumers and regulated industries have trust in their regulatory body – and in particular, “that regulation will be free from any government and political interference”.

Perhaps in light of that need for independence, Chapman told the audience he was “a little gobsmacked” at the suggestion, from the government’s Convergence Review, that ACMA be abolished and replaced with a new super-regulator.

The review, he said, “only touched on 40 percent of ACMA activities” (presumably, those particularly associated with its broadcasting responsibilities and ignoring its telecommunications and radio spectrum responsibilities).

Describing just how much the telecommunications landscape now differs from that when Australia’s “decades old” legislation was first framed, he noted that voice services were no longer associated with a voice line, but had become apps: “the vendor of the voice app can easily be substituted with another.”

The IP networking world is also challenging government sovereignty, sometimes in ways that citizens don’t fully realize: “the data held outside government now far exceeds that held by government.” ®

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