Telstra has accused Vodafone of showing its “true colours” as an infrastructure “freeloader” as the war of words over a potential regulated opening of part of Telstra’s regional mobile network intensifies.
The accusations came after Vodafone was overlooked for funding in round two of the federal mobile blackspots program, and used it as an excuse to attack Telstra.
Angered by the round two funds being split by Telstra and Optus – and the lion’s share of round one funding being allocated to Telstra - Vodafone claimed the blackspots scheme risked “further entrenching the dominance of Telstra”.
Vodafone also alleged other telcos were making it difficult to colocate mobile equipment on their towers in regional areas, and that a proposed ACCC declaration opening Telstra’s regional mobile network to others for domestic roaming “would ensure that taxpayers in rural and regional areas get maximum value through the mobile blackspot program".
But Telstra’s group managing director of networks Mike Wright hit back, suggesting that “if Vodafone didn’t win any sites” in round two, “the only people they should be asking a question of is themselves".
“We all choose to compete in the market by investing heavily in regional Australia,” Wright said.
“We’re putting our money on the table. [Vodafone] had a choice to do so and they chose not to, and frankly it just shows up that maybe they’re playing the market in the whole roaming debate.
“I think ultimately what you’re seeing is their true colours coming out.
“Essentially, when there’s a choice between investing and freeloading, they’ll go for freeloading every time. Their whole campaign is essentially trying to ride on the back of a very significant investment that Telstra has made over a long period of time.”
Wright said Telstra had consistently spent 15 percent of its network budget on reaching "the last 2 percent" of Australia's population over the past 10 years.
“We do that because that’s what we stand for and we know customers will come to Telstra for that very reason,” he said.
“Vodafone would effectively like to get on the back of that.”
Wright reiterated Telstra'a argument that allowing other telcos to roam on the regional portion of its network could disincentivise future regional investment.
The telco for many years has traded on its coverage as a reason to become a customer.
“If that ability to claim our coverage advantage was taken away, I can’t understand what would be the incentive for anybody to build new coverage,” he said.
Wright called Vodafone’s accusations over colocation “highly unusual”.
“We and the industry colocate on a large number of sites both ways,” he said.
“Over the past ten years we’ve enabled colocation on 97 percent of the applications we’ve received to design and construct, so from our point of view we’re not sure what the point being made is."