Vodafone Australia is escalating its campaign to have regulated domestic roaming established in Australia, by filing judicial review proceedings with the Federal Court of Australia today. Vodafone is asking the Court to review the process by which the ACCC reached (and thus released) a draft decision denying a wholesale domestic mobile roaming service in Australia.
Of the decision, Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) says ‘Australian mobile phone users will continue to pay too much and suffer poor coverage in regional areas following the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) draft decision on domestic roaming’.
The grounds for the decision to seek a judicial review are, Vodafone says, that the ACCC ‘has not identified a detailed description of the roaming service, which VHA considers it is required to do by law’.
Vodafone has said of the decision to file for a review of the process:
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.
The decision on domestic roaming is too important to regional Australia for the inquiry to continue in a flawed way.
A wholesale domestic mobile roaming service in Australia would allow Vodafone, and other carriers, access to each others towers (and backhaul services) around Australia for the purposes of supplying better coverage to customers on all networks. This sounds wonderful, however as Telstra pointed out at the time, if other carriers were able to access their towers in areas which have traditionally low coverage for these other carriers, it would essentially give other carriers a free ride — though Telstra would be paid a standardised roaming fee from other carriers which use those towers.
Telstra’s claim is also a little questionable, as Telstra received a large portion of their current network thanks to being government owned, or winning contracts for supplying infrastructure for government works such as the NBN or receiving public monies for blackspot reduction works over the years.
In a brief statement, the ACCC said
We have consulted extensively with regional Australia in relation to our draft decision, and the majority of views we received from farmer and other stakeholders groups were not in favour of the ACCC declaring domestic roaming.
The instigation of an ACCC mandated, regulated, wholesale domestic mobile roaming service in Australia would be a win for the customer. Telstra of course, as a publicly owned company, can’t just roll over, it has to protect its biggest asset which of course is their extremely comprehensive network which covers the majority of the Australian continent.
One wonders if Vodafone’s application has all that much merit, but from an outsiders perspective, it’s hard to judge. What we do know, though, is that the judicial review process for administrative decisions is fairly narrow; at best, the Federal Court could determine that the ACCC reached its draft decision unfairly, improperly or unlawfully, and set the decision aside, remitting the matter to the ACCC to be redetermined according to the directions of the Court.
We, for our part, would love to see a wholesale domestic roaming service declared and made available, but only on the proviso that it did not unfairly burden Telstra or any other carrier. Any such service would have to have reasonable roaming fees fixed so that carriers can be indemnified from additional costs from roaming customers.