ACCC to consider declaring a domestic mobile roaming service
Regulator could force competing networks to offer access for a fixed price.
Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of global roaming, where you shift your mobile’s SIM onto a foreign network in order to take and make calls and use data services. We’re all probably aware of the fact that if you don’t plan ahead, global roaming can be an expensive proposition.
At the same time, you’ve probably been in a situation where your friends or family have managed to access services on their phones while yours has struggled to maintain any kind of connectivity at all. It could be tempting to "roam" onto their networks, but that’s not generally supported within Australia. There have been agreements between networks in Australia for 2G-based call and text roaming, but with 2G services on limited lifespans, that’s not a huge consideration.
It could be for the ACCC, however, which has announced it’s opening up an inquiry into declaring domestic roaming for consumers. It’s previously pondered the prospect back in 1998 and again in 2005, but the mobile landscape has shifted considerably since then.
Specifically, the ACCC says it will look into:
- how consumer demands for mobile services are evolving, and whether there are differences in regional areas to urban areas
- the likely investment plans of each of the mobile network operators to extend coverage and upgrade technology, absent a declaration
- whether there are any significant barriers to expanding the reach of mobile networks
- any lessons from similar experience with domestic mobile roaming in other countries.
What does a "declared" domestic roaming service mean?
If it happens, when a service is "declared" by the ACCC, it lays down rules and pricing structures that telecommunications providers are obliged to operate under. In practical terms, were it to be implemented then carriers would have to open up their networks for domestic roaming from any other carrier at an agreed to price for that usage. It doesn’t automatically follow that you’d then be able to "roam" onto competing networks using your data quota as provided (although those kinds of agreements could be made between telcos), but simply that uniform pricing should apply in all cases.
The most likely ongoing beneficiaries of these arrangements would be regional and remote area users where network reception for a single network may be patchy but another network has decent coverage. The ACCC notes in its release however that it’s not determined to go down the declaration path.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims stated that "a particular area of concern for us is whether consumers would, in fact, be disadvantaged if the incentives to invest in expanding the reach of mobile networks were reduced."