Access to mobile networks: ACCC preparing to make the call
On 27 May 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commenced a public inquiry to decide whether to extend, vary or revoke the domestic mobile terminating access service (MTAS) declaration, or whether to make a new declaration. The Competition and Consumer Act 2010 requires the ACCC to review the current MTAS declaration before it expires on 30 June 2014.
The MTAS is a wholesale service that mobile network operators offer each other so that calls on different networks can be connected. In other words, to make or receive calls using your mobile it must be connected to a mobile phone network, currently Telstra, Optus or Vodafone. When someone using a different network calls you, the call is transferred from their network to your network, and then carried over your network to your mobile phone. The carrying of the call by the receiving network is known as ‘mobile termination’, and this service is called the MTAS. The network originating the call pays the network receiving (or ‘terminating’) the call for the service.
A mobile operator is the only one who can offer mobile termination services for customers connected to its network. In this way, an operator has a monopoly over termination on its network. The ACCC regulates mobile termination in Australia to ensure that mobile operators cannot refuse to provide mobile termination on their network, and to ensure the prices for telecommunication services remain competitive.
The ACCC held its most recent MTAS declaration inquiry in 2009. The mobile industry has changed significantly since then. Some of the important changes include:
- people are using their mobile phones more, not just for voice calls but also for data services;
- the use of SMS and MMS has increased;
- new smartphone applications (like Skype and WhatsApp) have been developed that allow people to make voice calls and send messages using data; and
- improved network quality, with 4G networks being rolled out by operators.
These changes may mean regulation of mobile termination is no longer needed, or that the types of mobile services that should be regulated are now different.
Submissions are being sought by the ACCC on:
- whether there are now any substitute services for the MTAS, particularly considering the development of voice over IP services and changes in consumer behaviour;
- whether continued declaration of the MTAS will still promote competition in the relevant markets;
- whether continued declaration will promote the efficient use of and investment in infrastructure, particularly considering increases in data usage and network sharing arrangements;
- whether SMS and MMS should also be declared; and
- whether voice services provided over 4G/LTE networks should be covered by the MTAS service description.
The ACCC has released a discussion paper looking at the matters the ACCC will consider when making its decision about mobile termination. Submissions to the inquiry are open until 5 July 2013. The ACCC expects to issue a draft decision for public consultation later in 2013 and a final decision in early 2014.
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