Despite still being tied up in a Federal Court challenge, the competition watchdog has ruled out mobile roaming.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has ended the mobile roaming discussion pending a Federal Court challenge. Instead, it will undertake two reviews, which it hopes will lead to improved mobile phone coverage and quality of service in regional areas of Australia.
In a statement released today, the consumer watchdog explained why it opted against ‘declaring’ roaming mobile, which would have allowed Optus and Vodafone to roam onto Telstra’s more extensive network (holding 84% of some markets) in regional areas.
“The ACCC’s inquiry found that declaration would likely not lead to lower prices or better coverage or quality of services for regional Australians,” Chairman Rod Sims said.
“Declaration could actually harm the interests of consumers by undermining the incentives of mobile operators to make investments to compete with each other in regional areas.”
“While geographic coverage is important to many consumers, it is not the only factor people consider when choosing their provider. Many Australians actually prefer Telstra in areas where there is competing coverage due to the quality of the network.
“Many regional areas currently have a limited choice as in some areas only Telstra has coverage. While declaring roaming may increase choice, consumers could pay more as the costs of accessing roaming in regional areas will likely be passed onto consumers.”
The ACCC’s next steps will be a “review of the Facilities Access Code to identify barriers to co-location or infrastructure deployment”. It will also undertake a review of it’s Infrastructure RKR in an effort to improve the information collected about mobile networks.
The ongoing court battle
But if Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) is successful in quashing the ACCC’s draft decision, the regulatory body would effectively be forced back to square one.
Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd said he was surprised the ACCC had decided not to wait for the judgment, which according to the ABC, is due before Christmas.
“If that case is successful, it will apply equally to the [ACCC’s] draft decision and the final decision, and the ACCC will have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.
The inquiry into domestic mobile roaming began in 2016. It received 145 submissions in response to a discussion paper, and in May this year it decided mobile roaming would “not improve the current state of competition overall”.
The ACCC decided to proceed with the public inquiry while responding to VHA’s application for judicial review. Telstra joined as second respondent and Optus joined as intervener at the judicial review proceedings.