The ACCC Won't Force Mobile Telcos To Share Their Networks

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The ACCC has just announced its decision not to declare Australia's mobile networks when it comes to regional roaming -- meaning that if you're travelling around the country and your carrier's mobile signal dies, your phone won't roam onto a competitor's network.

The ACCC said the proposed change wouldn't lead to better coverage, but that's small comfort for anyone that's been out driving and had their reception drop off a cliff.

The report shows that the ACCC doesn't believe the move would be beneficial for Australian consumers in the long term -- because it believes declaration would reduce the incentive for any telco to stay competitive by improving network coverage.

ACCC chief Rod Sims: "Declaration could actually harm the interests of consumers by undermining the incentives of mobile operators to make investments to compete with each other in regional areas. While geographic coverage is important to many consumers, it is not the only factor people consider when choosing their provider. Many Australians actually prefer Telstra in areas where there is competing coverage due to the quality of the network.”

However, the ACCC has also released an issues paper that it has drafted with suggestions on how carriers can improve their regional mobile coverage and performance, including on how telcos share information to consumers on their network performance -- so end users can "make informed decisions" when signing up.

Vodafone is understandably unhappy with the ACCC's decision. Independent testing data shows that Vodafone offers the best network performance in cities with a population over 100,000 -- but it doesn't have the same network infrastructure built out in rural and regional areas that Telstra inherited when the government-owned network was privatised. Domestic roaming would let all three carrier networks share the burden of users in areas that are under-served by one or more carriers, but the ACCC's decision scuppers the chances of that happening.

Vodafone says the decision won't work in consumers' best interests in the future: "This decision rings alarm bells for regional communities. The inquiry has shone a spotlight on the alarming lack of competition and high prices for mobile in many areas, but the ACCC seems to think that this is OK."

Domestic roaming, Vodafone says, has precedent in other countries, and has not made mobile markets stagnate. " Domestic roaming has been the answer in virtually every other large western economy and has successfully brought increased coverage and competition to countries including the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Spain and France." [ACCC / Vodafone]