Vodafone says Australian mobile phone users "will continue to pay too much and suffer poor coverage in regional areas" as a result of the ACCC's recent decision to restrict competitor networks from using Telstra's infrastructure to provide domestic roaming services.
Vodafone is taking legal action: asking the Federal Court to review the ACCC's inquiry process "on behalf of all Australian mobile customers".
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has ruled against a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service - which would allow rival telcos to roam using Telstra's network - stating there was "insufficient evidence" a declaration on the service would improve the current state of competition.
It is a move both Vodafone and Pivotel have called a "missed opportunity" for regional Australians who are currently solely reliant on Telstra for their telecommunications needs.
"The domestic mobile roaming inquiry is an opportunity to do better for regional Australia, but if domestic roaming is not declared, consumers will be denied the benefits of increased coverage, competition and choice," Vodafone said in a statement. "We feel so strongly about the impact on consumers, we are taking legal action as we believe the inquiry process which produced the draft decision was flawed."
Vodafone says the process hasn't been carried out "properly" because the definitions as to what exactly a domestic roaming service is compromised of is "vague".
The grounds for Vodafone's case are essentially that the ACCC has asked for final submissions in its inquiry, but it has not identified a detailed description of the roaming service, which Vodafone considers it is required to do by law. A service description for a domestic mobile roaming service could define the scope of the service, including, for example, by limiting domestic roaming to regional Australia or by limiting domestic roaming only to areas with one or two mobile networks.
Vodafone says its position also reflects the ACCC's past conduct in other declaration inquiries, where the ACCC had specifically set out the proposed service description that is the subject of the inquiry.The ACCC's own declaration guidelines state that specifically identifying an appropriate service description is an important and key step in a declaration inquiry process.
Defining the specific service which could be declared is fundamental to the process, says Vodafone.
"Without knowing the parameters of the proposed declared service, it is not possible for the ACCC to conduct its analysis of whether regulating such a service would be in the Long Term Interests of End Users or not, and it is not possible for interested parties to provide relevant and meaningful submissions in response to the Draft Report."
"The decision on domestic roaming is too important to regional Australia for the inquiry to continue in a flawed way," Vodafone says. "VHA will continue to work collaboratively with the ACCC, government and industry to improve consumer outcomes for regional Australians."
The ACCC’s disappointing draft decision on mobile domestic roaming is a missed opportunity for regional Australia. It denies the benefits of increased coverage, competition and choice to Australian mobile customers, especially hundreds of thousands of Australians living in regional and rural areas.