Towers, radiocommunications facilities and electromagnetic energy emissions
In recent years strong demand for mobile voice and data services has led to the rollout of new towers and other infrastructure across Australia, including in residential areas. The Telecommunications Act 1997 seeks to balance the community’s demand for telecommunications services with potential concern about the installation of infrastructure.
Installation of infrastructure
The Telecommunications Act does not provide any immunity from state and territory planning laws for freestanding mobile phone towers. Proposals for new freestanding towers are subject to state and territory planning processes, usually at the local level. This ensures that communities have the opportunity to have their say on the installation of larger facilities.
Some radiocommunications facilities, such as smaller antennas attached to existing structures, are classified as low-impact. Carriers have powers under the Telecommunications Act to enter land and install low-impact facilities without state and territory planning approval. Low-impact radiocommunications facilities are generally those installed on existing structures. These facilities must fall within strict size and colour criteria and be installed in appropriately zoned areas to be classified as low-impact.
When installing low-impact radiocommunications facilities under Commonwealth law, carriers must abide by the restrictions set out in the Act and a Ministerial Code of Practice (the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997). General information about the powers and immunities regime is available on the carrier powers and immunities page. In addition to these requirements, further conditions apply to the installation of radiocommunications facilities.
Electromagnetic energy emissions
The government is aware that the installation of new radiocommunications transmitters, including mobile phone transmitters, can be a sensitive issue for communities. Some concerns may relate to electromagnetic energy (EME) emissions.
The level of emissions for all radiocommunications facilities, including low-impact facilities, is strictly regulated by the Australian Government.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), within the Health and Ageing portfolio, is the Australian Government agency responsible for setting EME exposure standards. The relevant ARPANSA Standard is the Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels in Radiofrequency Fields—3k Hz to 300 GHz (2002) (the ARPANSA Standard).
- ARPANSA publication: Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels in Radiofrequency Fields—3k Hz to 300 GHz (2002)
The Australian and Media Communication Authority’s Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2003requires licensees of radio transmitters to ensure that the operators of their facilities do not exceed the general public exposure limits of the ARPANSA Standard at all places accessible to the general public. These requirements are also included in spectrum licences. The ACMA maintains an online register of licences.
The ARPANSA Standard is applicable to all devices that produce radio frequency EME, including all mobile phone technology, mobile phone base stations, radio and television transmitters, and industrial sources.
The ARPANSA exposure limits are set well below the level at which adverse health effects are known to occur. The ARPANSA Standard is based upon international best practice and is consistent with guidelines published by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which many countries have adopted. A copy of this statement is published on the ICNIRP website.
The ACMA and ARPANSA have jointly developed an information kit on EME, deployment of mobile base stations and mobile phones handsets. The information package is on the ACMA site, while ARPANSA publishes its own fact sheets.
Industry code on mobile base station deployment
Where a low-impact facility is to be deployed as part of a mobile network (for example, a new antenna on an existing structure) the industry code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment developed by the Communications Alliance also applies. The code sets out community consultation requirements for the deployment of these facilities.
The code requires carriers to produce an environmental EME report for new or upgraded mobile phone base stations according to a format and methodology approved by ARPANSA. These reports are published on the Radio Frequency National Site Archive:
The code is registered by the ACMA under Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act. The Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997 requires carriers to comply with any relevant codes registered with the ACMA under Part 6, and compliance is enforceable as a carrier licence condition.
The Communications Alliance has recently reviewed the code, resulting in a number of changes that strengthen the community consultation process expected of carriers. The revised code commenced operation on 1 July 2012. Further information about the revised code is on the Communications Alliance website.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)
- Tel: 1800 022 333
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
- Tel: 1300 850 115