ACCC roaming discussion instrumental in regional telecommunications

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: The most recent Golspie Tower constructed by Telstra as part of the $230 million Black Spot Mobile Program. Photo: supplied.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS: The most recent Golspie Tower constructed by Telstra as part of the $230 million Black Spot Mobile Program. Photo: supplied.

High-level discussions on the future of domestic mobile roaming have been welcomed by Chris Taylor, the ACT/Southern NSW area general manager for Australian telecommunications giant Telstra.

In September 2016, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) set up an inquiry into whether to “declare” (that is, establish) a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service.

On May 5, the ACCC released a draft decision saying they wouldn’t start a compulsory access process. Public replies are due June 2.

The draft decision discusses issues of domestic mobile roaming, such as regional/metro pricing, infrastructure use and competition.

If a declaration were to go ahead, it would force Telstra to allow other, smaller telecommunications companies to use Telstra’s mobile roaming infrastructure, challenging their regional stronghold.

But the report’s findings say an increase in internet providers in regional areas where Telstra is the sole provider may not result in lower, more competitive prices.

Additionally, the ACCC fears Telstra would no longer have a strong incentive to invest in telecommunication projects, such as the Black Spot Mobile Program, which is building 577 base stations across Australia.

Telstra has invested $230 million in this program, which critics have described as a monopoly. If declared, Telstra could lose up to $500 million. 

“Who’s been prepared to invest in the past? Hence we have a larger network in Australia,” Mr Taylor said.

“Customers in metropolitan areas with Telstra can drive out of Sydney and Canberra and enjoy coverage.” 

However, residents in Telstra-only areas face higher retail prices, with fewer low-price plans on offer.

“We set a small premium and re-invest that to continue providing mobile 4G coverage. That’s what our customers tell us they want,” Mr Taylor said.

“Our argument, and those of many regional stakeholders declaring domestic roaming, is everyone is on the same level playing field for coverage and competition. [Non-Telstra internet providers] can make a decision right now to start investing in their network. It’s a decision for them.” 

A declaration could result in extra charges for other carriers’ roaming, he said. Currently, carriers can access existing infrastructure and ‘back haul’; that is, transport data from the base station to the network.