Australia, NZ governments to regulate mobile roaming

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Australia, NZ governments to regulate mobile roaming

Aussie telcos dragging chain on lowering rates.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have decided to regulate high trans-Tasman mobile roaming rates, following industry consultation and the commissioning of several market studies.

The announcement was made this weekend by Prime Ministers Gillard and Key in Queenstown, New Zealand.

It was timed to coincide with the publishing of the joint final report on roaming rates by Australia's department of broadband, communications and the digital economy (DBCDE) and New Zealand's ministry of business, innovation and employment (MBIE).

The report recommended that telco regulators in Australian and New Zealand be granted expanded powers to allow them to intervene in the market and cooperate where necessary.

Regular reports and information collection will also be compiled by the ACCC and the NZ Commerce Commission on mobile roaming rates.

Regulators in both countries will be able to apply price caps on wholesale and retail services on individual telcos, without having to limit charges across the entire field of providers.

Telcos will be obliged to provide mobile local-access service to customers, enabling them to use their devices overseas with their original phone number without having to swap SIM cards.

The ACCC first examined high mobile roaming rates in 2005. In 2009, Australia's house or representives standing committee on communications released a report recommending the government begin bilateral negotiations with other countries that receive large numbers of Australian visitors.

Senator Stephen Conroy and New Zealand's then Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Steven Joyce released a discussion document the following year. A full investigation into the roaming market was launched in April 2011.

Mobile roaming rates have come down since 2009, the report noted, suggesting "positive progress" albeit with margins still being high and no Australian or NZ operator having introduced a local access service.

While New Zealand telcos such as Telecom and Vodafone have lowered roaming rates greatly over the past few years, their Australian counterparts have not adjusted them down in a similar fashion.

Vodafone NZ wrote in its submission that "significant reductions in wholesale inbound roaming in New Zealand do not appear to have resulted in reductions in retail roaming rates by Optus and Telstra over this time."

“Australian retail pricing for roaming in New Zealand appears to be much higher than the retail prices paid by New Zealanders who roam in Australia… [even though] the blended [wholesale] rates Australian and New Zealand carriers charge each other are similar", wrote NZ operator 2 Degrees in its submission.

Full text of the joint DBCDE-MBIE report on trans-tasman mobile roaming rates below.

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