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ACCC Launches Domestic Mobile Roaming Inquiry

ACCC Launches Domestic Mobile Roaming Inquiry

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is undertaking an inquiry into whether to declare a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service, enabling mobile operators to provide services for their customers in areas in which they do not have a network.

In advising that the inquiry will commence today, the ACCC stated that it “is aware that mobile coverage is an increasingly important issue in Australia, with a greater impact on those living in regional areas”.

“Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile services and the issue of coverage and a lack of choice in some regional areas is a particular issue that has been raised by a number of groups,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims commented.

“There has been significant interest in the questions around access to mobile networks and mobile roaming, including from representatives from regional Australia, the Regional Telecommunications Review Committee, Infrastructure Australia and the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.”

In response to the move, Telstra has issued a statement, with Telstra group executive corporate affairs Dr Tony Warren stating the telco expects to have invested $5 billion in mobile  services nationally in the three years to June 2017.

“Where there is lack of choice of operators for regional Australians, it is the result of decisions by our competitors to not invest in those areas,” Warren stated.

“Declaring mobile roaming would stop coverage being a differentiator in the Australian market, and therefore remove the key rationale for investment in regional Australia for all operators.

“Declaration would ensure there is no incentive for any operator to invest for competitive reasons in many regional areas. In contrast, history shows that when declaration is ruled out, investment flows for regional Australians.”

The ACCC states that the inquiry will focus on issues including how consumer demands for mobile services are evolving, and whether there are differences in regional areas to urban areas.

It will also look at the likely investment plans of each of the mobile network operators to extend coverage and upgrade technology, absent a declaration, whether there are any significant barriers to expanding the reach of mobile networks, and consider lessons from similar experiences with domestic mobile roaming in other countries.

Inquiries were previously held in 1998 and 2005, respectively.

“Network coverage is clearly a key feature of a mobile service, and each of the mobile network operators has extended its networks since we last looked at this issue in detail,” Sims stated.

“A lot has changed since 2005. We do think it’s time we look at the issue again in detail, and examine some of these key matters, including consumer demand, network investment and barriers to competition. We consider the most efficient way to do that is to consider all of the issues carefully through a declaration inquiry.”

Sims noted that a particular area of concern for the ACCC “is whether consumers would, in fact, be disadvantaged if the incentives to invest in expanding the reach of mobile networks were reduced”.

Communications sector market study

The ACCC has also today released an issues paper, seeking industry and consumer feedback for its communications sector market study, calling “for comment on a range of matters that may affect competition, the efficient operation of markets and investment incentives over the next five years and beyond”.

“This market study provides an opportunity to examine competition in Australia’s evolving communications markets, recognising the significant changes in how communications services are supplied and used,” Sims stated.

“The study will assist our understanding of how these trends are affecting competition and ensure regulatory settings remain responsive to drive good consumer outcomes.”

The study will focus on matters including the need to manage significant demand for data, and the transition to the NBN and what this means for competition and meeting consumer expectations.

It will also look at the relationship between mobile and fixed-line networks, industry consolidation and the transition to a new market structure, and the emergence of new technologies and delivery platforms.

Further information can be found here.

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