“I love it when a Numbering Plan comes together”: The A[CMA] Team opens consultation on a new Numbering Plan

On 3 June 2024, the ACMA opened a public consultation to review the Telecommunications Numbering Plan 2015 (‘Numbering Plan’) which sunsets on 1 April 2025. The details of the consultation can be found in the Discussion Paper for the Review of the Numbering Plan and other instruments (‘Discussion Paper’).

Under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) (‘Telco Act’), the ACMA is required to make a plan for the numbering of carriage services in Australia. The current Numbering Plan sets out the rules for the use of different types of numbers in connection with carriage services, as well as the allocation, transfer, and portability of those numbers.

The current Numbering Plan has undergone several previous reviews, most recently in 2022, which included amendments that:

  • supported scam disruption initiatives;
  • enabled more efficient allocation of numbers by reducing the standard unit sizes;
  • removed outdated provisions; and
  • provided additional geographic numbers to meet expected demand.

Nevertheless, the rate of innovation in the telecommunications industry has outpaced the rate of regulatory reform. To determine how the level of competition in the industry can be improved and what are the main considerations for companies and consumers (e.g. scam), the ACMA undertook a scoping exercise earlier this year with key industry participants. It found a variety of issues which it now seeks to address in this review. This suggests that these reforms may be broader than those previously undertaken and there appears to be a recognition in the consultation paper of the significance of numbering resources for the provisioning of modern and innovative telecommunications services.

Multiple-service use of numbers

The use of numbers by multiple CSPs is arguably the hot topic of the ACMA’s Discussion Paper. Traditionally, only the CSP that holds a number would provide carriage services for that number. However, the practice of calling line identification (CLI) over-stamping has allowed CSPs to supply outbound carriage services using numbers held by other CSPs.

A classic example of this kind of practice is the use of overseas call centres for Australian businesses to contact their customers in Australia. Those calls can be made with numbers issued by one CSP, via a cloud-based platform managed by a different CSP that over-stamps the number with a number used by the business’ brand and trusted by customers.

Some carriers and CSPs have expressed opposition to the multiple-service practice, with their objections mostly based on the concern that it undermines scam mitigation initiatives. However, other CSPs that support this practice point to the customer demand for CLI over-stamping, the innovation and flexibility that this practice affords businesses, and the risk of stifling competition if the practice were to be prohibited.

The ACMA acknowledges that the practice is well-established and popular with consumers and that prohibition may increase costs for consumers but that it also presents some challenges.  The ACMA seeks views on whether there are solutions or measures that could be implemented to address the concerns raised in response to this practice and whether the legitimate use of the multiple-service practice is a problem. The ACMA is particularly interested in rules or arrangements that could be introduced to manage the practice.  Furthermore, the ACMA would like to hear from CSPs that use this practice to understand how stakeholders will be affected.

Rules for allocation

During the 2022 review of the Numbering Plan, the practice of sub-allocation (or sub-assignment) and the question of whether CSPs should need to register before they can be assigned a number were key issues.  The Discussion Paper revisits these issues.  In particular, the ACMA queries whether there should be stronger rules for the allocation of numbers to C/CSPs in the Numbering Plan and whether CSPs should be required to seek additional information before sub-allocating numbers to other CSPs.

Other issues for review

In addition to the above, the ACMA is also reviewing the number types that are available for use, the specification of those numbers for the supply of certain services, the rules surrounding number portability and smartnumbers, among a range of other issues.     

Some industry stakeholders are pushing for the next Numbering Plan to comprise a principles-based document that leaves the detailed operational procedures and requirements to separate industry codes and guidelines. Arguably, this would allow for greater flexibility and technological neutrality to meet customer and operational requirements now and into the future.

As a final point, the ACMA also invites comments on two determinations that accompany the Numbering Plan to determine whether they are still fit for purpose or whether they need remaking. These are the Telecommunications (Provision of Pre-selection) Determination 2015 and the Telecommunications (Section of the Telecommunications Industry – Portability Service Suppliers) Determination 2015.

A new dawn for the Numbering Plan

The current review of the Numbering Plan provides a unique opportunity to, in the words of the objects of the Telco Act, promote the “efficiency and international competitiveness of the Australian telecommunications industry” and the “supply of diverse and innovative carriage services and content services”.

This article was written with assistance from Ruby Simpson.

For more information, please contact Thomas Jones or Matthew Bovaird.

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