Govt moves on trans-Tasman roaming costs

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Govt moves on trans-Tasman roaming costs

Do recent price cuts render new powers redundant?

The Federal Government is pressing ahead with plans to arm the ACCC with the power to intervene on international roaming charges, despite recent price reductions by telcos.

The Department of Communications published an exposure draft of the International Mobile Roaming bill overnight and opened a consultation on its contents.

The bill is initially targeted at reducing the cost of trans-Tasman roaming, an issue that was first explored in a landmark report delivered by the Australian and New Zealand governments in mid-2012.

The threat of intervention did not sit well with telcos, but both countries' governments decided to press ahead with joint regulation of telecommunications roaming early last year.

Corresponding legal changes were meant to be tabled in parliament before June 2013 but have been delayed until now.

If passed, telcos will have wholesale and retail roaming prices and margins monitored and published.

Those considered out-of-order could be subjected to price control arrangements, such as caps, or other access obligations designed to reduce prices paid by end users.

"Prior to imposing any price-control arrangements or access obligations the ACCC would be required to conduct an inquiry involving public consultation, in order to determine whether regulatory action is necessary," the government said.

"However, if prices for TTMR [Trans-Tasman mobile roaming] services continue to converge with domestic prices, the necessity for the ACCC to impose price regulation using the measures contained in the IMR Bill will likely diminish."

The federal government's decision to press ahead with regulation — despite acknowledging price reductions on the route — is unlikely to sit well with telcos.

Vodafone now caps roaming charges to New Zealand — and other countries — at $5 a day. It had been trialling various options on the route since at least late 2010.

Telstra and Optus slashed data roaming costs in September last year. Telstra also attacked international roaming charges for voice calls earlier this month.

Submissions on the exposure draft of the bill close at the end of February.

New Zealand will need to draft its own laws to regulate prices charged by telcos based there.

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