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Farmers back ACCC’s mobile roaming inquiry

AUSTRALIAN farmers have moved one step closer to gaining greater mobile phone coverage and competition.

Australia’s competition watchdog has launched an inquiry into declaring wholesale domestic mobile roaming services.  

“ACCC declaration of domestic inter-carrier roaming would open up the nation’s mobile telecommunications market to true competition,” Victorian Farmers Federation Vice-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.

“It’d mean that as you travel around your mobile would tap into the nearest tower, no matter who owns it, as part of these mobile inter-carrier roaming agreements,” Mr Hosking said.

Domestic inter-carrier agreements already exist in many overseas nations – US, Canada and New Zealand, 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). 

Mr Hosking said rural and regional Australia were yet to enjoy the benefits of true competition, due to Telstra’s market dominance. “Poor connectivity and high costs are one of the biggest issues our VFF members raise with us.

“Our survey of 533 VFF members, last year, found 91 per cent used Telstra as their mobile carrier and 85 per cent used Telstra Bigpond as their Internet provider, mainly because they had little choice.

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

In order to declare a roaming service under 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.

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