Regional MPs side with Telstra in 'freeloading' roaming fight

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Regional MPs side with Telstra in 'freeloading' roaming fight

Don't want to discourage investment by other telcos.

Regional members of The Nationals party have backed Telstra's fight against a proposal to let other telcos roam onto its rural network, claiming it would result in other mobile operators choosing not to invest in building their own infrastructure.

The ACCC proposal would force telcos with regional networks to open them up to rivals.

Vodafone and TPG are keen to see the proposal come into force to allow them to claw back some of Telstra's dominance, which Vodafone argues [pdf] is the result of government subsidies over the years.

Telstra has consistently claimed letting its rivals "piggyback" off its investment in regional infrastructure would be detrimental to end users in those areas, and could endanger almost $1 billion in planned investment.

It has labelled rival Vodafone a "free-loader" that wants to "ride" off its back.

In submissions to the ACCC's inquiry into the proposal, a group of regional Nationals MPs have now added their voice urged the regulator not to do anything that would discourage telcos from investing in rural areas.

Ten Victorian Nationals MPs, represented by Peter Walsh, said while they had learned to live with inadequate mobile coverage provided by Telstra, the ACCC's proposal would put future investment at risk.

"We must have a regulatory environment where telcos are able and willing to invest and co-invest to increase coverage beyond commercially lucrative locations," they wrote [pdf].

"A future regulatory system that deters infrastructure and technology investments by undermining market advantage would be detrimental to regional, rural and remote areas."

Nationals MP Mark Coulton [pdf] said national roaming may lower prices, but would be detrimental to service availability in the long term.

Luke Hartsuyker, who is also the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, argued that consumers were more concerned about mobile coverage than choice of operator.

"Roaming is likely to exacerbate the existing complaints of most mobile telephone users, not address their concerns," he said. [pdf]

"I receive many more complaints about mobile coverage and quality than I do about about lack of choice."

However, one Nationals MP - Andrew Broad - struck out on his own to criticise Telstra's lack of activity in his own area of the Mallee in Victoria.

Broad said [pdf] people were "sick of paying more and receiving less", and argued in favour of roaming as well as the dumping of the universal service obligation paid to Telstra by the federal government to provide fixed-line serices.

The Productivity Commission similarly recommended the USO be scrapped late last year in its draft report on the matter.

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