In 2017-18, Australians made over 8.9 million emergency calls via the 000, 112 and 106 numbers – a critical service made possible through the national emergency call service (ECS).

The ECS is regulated by The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (TCPSS Act). As part of its role, ACMA makes determinations imposing requirements on carriers, carriage service providers and emergency call persons (ECPs) regarding access, call carriage, call handling, service information and charging for the ECS.

Consultation process

In October 2018, ACMA released a consultation paper in which it asked for stakeholder submissions on the current ACMA Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2009, made under subsection 147(1) of the TCPSS Act (the Determination).

The Determination has been amended a number of times, most recently in 2014. However, it is due to sunset in April 2020.

In calling for submissions on the Determination, ACMA aimed to ensure that any new Determination remains relevant, practical and effective in the face of a fast-evolving technological environment.

ACMA reviewed the initial submissions received in response to its 2018 consultation request, and as a result of that consultation process has published a new draft Telecommunications (Emergency Call Service) Determination 2019. ACMA is now conducting a second round consultation process and is seeking further submissions in relation to the draft Determination.

Key stakeholder concerns

ACMA’s first call for submissions generated a number of key issues from stakeholders including Telstra, Optus, NBN Co, AMTA and SA Ambulance.

The key issues raised by industry in the submissions included:

  • how to manage the ECS in an NBN environment, including a desire that the Determination should be technologically neutral to the greatest extent practicable with high level guiding principles to establish expectations for all entities involved in providing the ECS
  • access to the ECS, including a desire that exemptions from the obligation to provide access to the ECS should be clear, unambiguous, consistent and non-discretionary
  • how to manage non-genuine calls, including the ability for industry to block or disconnect both carriers that continue to deliver non-genuine calls and also makers of non-genuine calls (including as part of denial of service attacks)
  • co-ordination of communications in the event of network disruption that impacts access to the ECS in accordance with the Triple Zero Disruption Protocol published by Telstra
  • a focus on cybersecurity, including the development of a Code or Guideline setting out how carriers and carriage service providers should monitor and protect the ECS and defend against a cyber-attack.

ACMA was generally in agreeance with stakeholders on the issues and recommendations made. However it did disagree with some submissions, including a proposal to charge for calls which are deemed non-genuine. ACMA’s view is that this would be unreasonable and in any event unlikely to deter people who are intent on making non-genuine calls, as often there are other factors present (such as mental health conditions).

So what’s changing? The next generation of ECS regulation.

The new draft Determination includes significant changes to the current 2009 Determination. Those changes reflect the feedback raised by stakeholders during the initial consultation process.

Apart from inclusion of a statement of objectives and a restructure of obligations, the most significant areas of change include:

  • removal of technology specific language and related obligations, to achieve a more technology neutral instrument;
  • the introduction of mechanisms to address concerns around the increasing number of non-genuine calls and their adverse effects, especially from mobile phones which do not contain a SIM card (providing users with added anonymity and un-traceability). In response, provisions have now been included to enable ECPs to trial alternative call-handling methods for SIM-less calls.
  • new obligations on carriers and CSPs to monitor calls to the emergency service numbers 000 and 112, and to act to protect the ECS where an incident that disrupts the ECS (such as denial of service attack) has occurred or is suspected;
  • new obligations to communicate with customers impacted by a disruption to the operation of the ECS, including a new requirement on CSPs to check on the welfare of their customers who unsuccessfully attempted to call the ECS during a disruption;
  • the revision of requirements relating to enhanced caller location information; and
  • enhanced requirements to minimise events which may disrupt the ECS, such as denial of service attacks.

Submissions to the ACMA on the new draft Telecommunications Emergency Call Service Determination 2019 close on 19 July 2019.

Written by Alexander Ryan, Nikhil Shah, Lesley Sutton

Expertise Area