Vodafone takes legal action over ‘flawed’ domestic roaming decision


Vodafone Australia has announced that it has launched judicial review proceedings over the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) wholesale domestic mobile roaming inquiry process, citing concern for those living in regional areas.

“If domestic roaming is not declared, consumers will be denied the benefits of increased coverage, competition, and choice,” Vodafone said on Friday afternoon.

“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.”

Announced on the last day the ACCC is accepting submissions on its draft decision, the judicial review asks the Australian Federal Court to “review the ACCC’s inquiry process on behalf of all Australian mobile customers”.

“We do not believe the process has been carried out properly, because a specific domestic roaming service has not been defined by the ACCC. The process is failing consumers because it is too vague,” Vodafone added.

“The decision on domestic roaming is too important to regional Australia for the inquiry to continue in a flawed way.”

The ACCC had last month made the draft decision not to declare wholesale mobile domestic roaming, preventing Vodafone, which has the least network coverage out of the three mobile telcos across rural and remote Australia, from piggybacking off Telstra’s mobile infrastructure.

“We know that many customers value coverage, and unless domestic roaming is declared, allowing all customers to access the infrastructure they paid for through taxes, too many will continue to be held prisoner to Telstra,” a Vodafone spokesperson told ZDNet last week.

Incoming mobile network provider TPG, the Competitive Carriers Coalition (CCC) made up of Australia’s non-dominant telcos, virtual mobile service provider MNF, and mobile network provider Pivotel also criticised the draft decision, saying that it would lessen competition.

For its part, Telstra CEO Andy Penn said Telstra will “immediately” move to expand its 4G network to 99 percent of the Australian population should the ACCC confirm its draft decision.

“If this decision is confirmed, we will immediately move to expand our 4G coverage to reach 99 percent of the population by later this year,” Penn told media in May.

“It also paves the way for ongoing investment in the coming years that would see an additional 1.4 million square kilometres of 4G coverage for regional and rural Australia. This means that about 600 base stations will be upgraded from 3G to 4G.

“If this decision is confirmed, I look forward to Telstra getting on with the job of supporting regional Australia with even more investment.”

Optus also welcomed the ACCC’s decision after backing Telstra up during debate on the issue last year, later announcing that it would similarly be investing AU$1.5 billion in improving its mobile coverage throughout Australia as a result of the decision.

“The AU$1.5 billion primarily will go towards our mobile network, and will go towards building a significant number of new greenfields sites primarily in the regional areas,” Optus CEO Allen Lew told ZDNet.

“There will also be within that AU$1.5 billion a densification of our metro networks in the capital cities.”

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), which represents the telecommunications needs of regional Australians, added that there is no evidence backing up Vodafone’s claims that declaring roaming would increase competition.

The ACCC’s draft decision [PDF] had acknowledged that while incumbent operator Telstra has an advantage in regional areas, this alone is “not sufficient to justify declaration of a roaming service”.

The ACCC took Telstra’s view that a regulatory declaration of wholesale mobile domestic roaming would result in less investment by Telstra in regional areas.

“Declaration of a roaming service would be likely to significantly reduce the benefits a mobile network operator would experience from extending its network coverage beyond that of its rivals,” the ACCC’s draft decision said.