The federal government has directed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct an inquiry into regional mobile tower access.
The 12-month inquiry will look at what regulatory action could be taken to make it easier for a mobile carrier to access a competitor’s tower, and whether it’s feasible to require carriers to provide free roaming across each others’ networks during natural disasters.
The ACCC has been instructed to look at the costs of providing “towers and associated passive and active infrastructure”, and the costs of accessing land for towers.
The inquiry will also seek submissions on how much it costs a third party to access a carrier’s tower, including the costs of providing access to the towers (for example, to install base station hardware).
The commercial and regulatory arrangements surrounding tower access are also part of the inquiry, and the commission will look at what factors influence industry investments in towers.
“The ACCC will call for submissions from a range of parties, including the organisations that provide towers and associated infrastructure, and the organisations that use the towers to provide services to Australians," communications minister Paul Fletcher said.
“A factor that increases the need for this review is that in the last year both Telstra and Optus have sold part ownership of their tower networks to third parties.
"It is important to consider the impact of this change in ownership on the incentives of the tower ownership businesses when it comes to providing access to their towers and the charges levied for that access.”
As noted by the minister for regional communications Bridget McKenzie, the 2021 Regional Telecommunications Review called for a feasibility study into also providing mobile roaming during disasters.
“The inquiry will be specifically about whether roaming can be activated in an area where there is a disaster or other emergencies, regardless of which telco people may be using during the time of the crisis,” she said.
“This could help our regional communities stay safe, stay connected to business and to loved ones during natural disasters and other emergencies.”
The inquiry will explore the technical feasibility of roaming provisions, and the business systems and processes required.
The ACCC is to commence the inquiry by July 1 and must report within 12 months.