Telecommunications numbers (Phone Numbers) are regarded as a national resource and are thus owned by the Commonwealth of Australia. Like most countries, the Australian telecommunications industry is regulated by an administrative authority which has the power to grant licences to service providers and plan the allocation of Phone Numbers, among other things. Licenced service providers are then entitled to issue individual Phone Numbers to their customers for a price.
In Australia, this regulator is known as the Australian Communications and Media Authority (AMCA). The ACMA oversees the operation of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) (Telcom Act), advises and assists the telecommunications industry, and reports on and provides information about the telecommunications industry to the federal government and the general public.
In accordance with its mandate under the Telcom Act, the AMCA grants licences to service providers and allocates batches of Phone Numbers to licensed service providers who must comply with the rules outlined in the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (Numbering Plan). Some high profile examples of service providers in Australia are Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone (among many others).
The overarching purpose of telecommunications regulation is to promote innovation and competitiveness within the telecommunications industry – which hopefully results in overall gains for the end user.
To this end, the regulations aim to ensure that customers can seamlessly switch their service providers while keeping the same number (known as “porting”), while also disincentivising service providers from hoarding Phone Numbers through the implementation of usage fees and “use or loose” regulations.
The consequence is that both service providers and their customers can acquire property rights in a Phone Number, however, ownership of the number never passes from the Commonwealth of Australia to any party to whom it is allocated, transferred, or issued.
So, what rights do you have to a Phone Number?
Under section 111 of the Numbering Plan, service providers are obliged to do everything necessary to port a customer’s number where requested to do so by another service provider on behalf of a customer.
The number must be ported at the time agreed between the customer and the new service provider, and the obligation to enable porting persists even where the customer is in arrears or owes money in respect of the services provided.
While telephone users may not own their Phone Number, the Australian telecommunications industry is designed to give them the right to use it freely, with the service provider of their choice (provided they are willing to pay the fees of said service provider).
For more information about your porting rights and the obligations placed on service providers you can go to the ACMA website here or contact our office.