ACCC mulls regulating roaming charges

Don't even think about it, thunder Telstra, Optus

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sparked a Telstra-Optus love-in by looking into whether mobile roaming should be a regulated service.

The regulator has announced a “declaration inquiry” into roaming. If the inquiry led to a declaration, it would mean domestic roaming charges (that is, when a user of one network can only connect via someone else's base station) would be capped by the ACCC.

In previous declaration inquiries in 1998 and 2005, the regulator decided commercial agreements between the carriers were working, and no declaration was needed.

Its greatest effect would be outside Australia's cities, where coverage is at its most patchy, and that's got Telstra and Optus linking arms and singing “we shall overcome”.

Any roaming declaration would give a leg-up to Vodafone, which of the three mobile carriers in Australia has the most gaps in its network coverage.

Optus told industry newsletter Communications Day a declaration would put regional investment at risk, and said the expansion of mobile networks in Australia was an example of a competitive success.

Optus also said colocation arrangements put in place as part of the government's mobile black spots program helped reduce the need for roaming.

Vulture South notes that late last week the Australian National Audit Office unloaded on the program as a waste of money.

Telstra took a similar position, with regulatory affairs officer Tony Warren saying the carrier will “immediately” look at its investment plans in light of the inquiry.

In other words: hands off our networks.

There's a separate ACCC inquiry into the telecommunications market, to look into competition, investment incentives and market developments for the next five years. ®

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