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Australia needs mobile phone roaming to deliver competition, say farmers

Farmers are calling on Australia’s competition watchdog to open up the nation’s mobile telecommunications market to true competition.

“We want the ACCC to ‘declare’ mobile inter-carrier roaming services, which would boost competition and end duplication of the network,” Victorian Farmers Federation Grain President Brett Hosking said.

Once the ACCC declares a service, it is subject to regulation and the provider of a declared service must supply it to other carriers when requested.

“Telstra, Vodafone, Optus and other mobile carriers would be forced to offer each other access to their networks, with the ACCC overseeing the process,” Mr Hosking said. “It’d mean that your mobile taps into the nearest tower, no matter who owns it, as part of these mobile inter-carrier roaming agreements.

Domestic inter-carrier agreements already exist in many overseas nations, with mobile users unaware that their phone is seamlessly shifting from one carrier’s tower to another. (Note: domestic inter-carrier agreements are not to be confused with international mobile roaming charges).

“As things stand we don’t have true competition in rural Australia; Telstra dominates and we suffer as a result, in terms of cost and coverage,” Mr Hosking said.

A VFF survey of 533 Victorian farmers in 2015 found 91 per cent used Telstra as their mobile carrier and 85 per cent used Telstra Bigpond as their Internet provider.

“We need competition, which will help break Telstra’s monopoly, end the duplication and rural mobile network,” Mr Hosking said.

“As a first step the VFF is calling on the Government to back an ACCC inquiry into mobile domestic inter-carrier roaming.

“An incoming Government has the power to direct the ACCC into launching an inquiry into domestic roaming, and we want commitments that they’ll do just that if elected.”

The last time the ACCC launched an inquiry into domestic roaming was in 2004, when just three carriers lodged submissions – Vodafone, Optus and Globalstar.

In order to declare a roaming service under Part XIC of the Competition and Consumer Act (CCA) the ACCC must be satisfied it’s in the long-term interest of consumers.

That is, it:
• Promotes competition in markets for listed services (i.e. carriage services, and services provided by means of carriage services);
• Achieves any-to-any connectivity in relation to carriage services that involve communication between end-users;
• Encourages the economically efficient use of, and the economically efficient investment in, the infrastructure by which telecommunications services are supplied.

The VFF and other state farmer organisations are also calling for immediate guarantees that the towers constructed under the Mobile Black Spot Program are accessible to all telcos, not just those who build them.

“It’s tax payers’ money that’s going into those towers, so the Federal Government needs to make sure it’s accessible to all phone users regardless of which provider they use,” Mr Hosking said.

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