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Watchdog probes mobile roaming charges

AAP logoAAP 5/09/2016 Lilly Vitorovich

Telstra has declared its opposition to a new inquiry into the possibility of regulating mobile roaming charges, claiming it will hurt investment in regional phone networks.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Monday launched an investigation into the possible regulation of roaming prices charged for access to mobile networks outside major centres.

Australia's biggest telco, which covers 98 per cent of Australia's population, would face greater competition in regional areas, where it is the main phone service provider, if the ACCC moved to set prices for network access.

At present, Telstra allows companies to piggyback on parts of its network at negotiated prices, and in two previous inquiries the ACCC found that access didn't need to be regulated.

However, it is understood that some competitors see Telstra's prices for access to parts of its network as too high to make commercial sense.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said it was time to revisit the issue of regional mobile roaming because the market had changed since the last inquiry in 2005.

"The issue of coverage and a lack of choice in some regional areas is a particular issue that has been raised by a number of groups," Mr Sims said.

Telstra blamed any lack of competition across regional Australia on its competitors' failure to invest in those areas.

"Declaring mobile roaming would stop coverage being a differentiator in the Australian market and, therefore, remove the key rationale for investment in regional Australia for all operators," Telstra corporate affairs executive Tony Warren said.

Telstra would consider the implications of possible roaming regulation for its investment plans, Mr Warren said.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd welcomed the inquiry, saying roaming is regulated in the other western countries with large land mass and areas of low population density, including the US, Canada and New Zealand without any evidence of negative impact on investment.

"On the contrary, it would see competitors contribute to, and subsidise, increased investment in regional Australia through payments for roaming," Mr Lloyd said.

Vodafone has some infrastructure in regional Australia plus a roaming agreement with Optus.

An Optus spokesperson said regulating roaming could risk pose a risk to investment in regional areas.

Small telcos industry group, the Competitive Carriers' Coalition, also welcomed the inquiry, saying many people still had inadequate services and choice despite millions of taxpayers dollars going into networks over the past 20 years.

The ACCC will examine changing consumer demands in regional areas, investment plans of current mobile operators and whether there are "significant barriers" to expanding the reach of mobile networks.

Mr Sims said the ACCC had not formed a view on the matter yet.

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