Vodafone Australia has taken legal action in the Federal Court over the Australian competition watchdog’s draft decision not to allow a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service in Australia.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released its draft decision on 5 May, with Vodafone Australia at the time criticising the ACCC’s tentative ruling, suggesting that it represented a “missed opportunity” for regional Australia.
If a national roaming service were to be declared, it would allow mobile network users to access infrastructure belonging to other telecommunications providers to access additional coverage.
Such a move would see Telstra, which has the largest rural and regional mobile coverage in Australia, compelled to open up its network to other carriers, such as Vodafone and Optus.
However, the Commission’s chairman, Rod Sims, suggested in May that the regulator had seen little evidence that a declaration for such a plan would improve the current state of telco competition in Australia.
“There is insufficient evidence to suggest that declaration of a mobile roaming service in regional and rural areas would further lower prices or improve services, given the higher costs in servicing these areas,” he said at the time.
Vodafone said that the draft decision would deny the benefits of increased coverage, competition and choice to Australian mobile customers, especially those in regional and rural areas.
“Too many Australians will continue to be held hostage to Telstra, and will have no choice but to pay Telstra’s mobile premium which totals $1.4 billion per year,” it said.
Now, the telco has taken its criticism of the ACCC’s stance a step further, filing for a judicial review of the Australian competition watchdog’s process in its domestic roaming inquiry.
The telco revealed on 2 June that it had filed an action in the Federal Court, asking the 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,” Vodafone said. “The process is failing consumers because it is too vague.
“The decision on domestic roaming is too important to regional Australia for the inquiry to continue in a flawed way,” it said.
The grounds of the action, according to Vodafone, 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 the telco 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 said.