Insight,

It’s not too late to have your say: Access to tower structures for telco equipment + feasibility of temporary mobile roaming in emergencies

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The ACCC has started its inquiry into regional mobile infrastructure by publishing its consultation paper (Consultation Paper).  Submissions are due on 5 August 2022.

This inquiry is to consider:

  • Access to infrastructure for telco purposes: access to towers and associated infrastructure (whether it is owned by telcos or non-telco entities), in regional areas, that can be used in the supply of mobile telecommunications and other radiocommunications services
  • Mobile roaming in emergencies: the feasibility of temporary mobile roaming services being provided during natural disasters and other such emergencies

As flagged in our earlier alert, the former Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, has directed the ACCC to hold a public inquiry into these issues (see the Ministerial Direction).

The Consultation Paper identifies a list of 30 questions as a guide to the matters the ACCC would like to see addressed, however the ACCC will consider all relevant issues raised in submissions.

The 30 questions the ACCC has provided as a guide for those wishing to make a submission are available here.  The ACCC has said it will focus on the real-world operating environment for tower access and facilities, and has made it clear it will consider all issues raised in submissions relevant to the inquiry, even if they do not address its guiding questions.

Some key themes coming out of the Consultation Paper are:

  • non-telco assets are in-scope: use of assets owned by entities that are not telcos (and where the assets are not currently used for telco purposes) for telecommunications purposes is being considered
  • colocation on co-funded mobile sites, in isolation, is unlikely to result in increased competition: the ACCC is concerned that Government investment funding new network infrastructure in rural and regional Australia as part of the Mobile Black Spots Program has not resulted in higher levels of colocation by the MNOs on Mobile Black Spot Program funded sites
  • other co-funding models may better promote competition: the ACCC appears to be actively interested in views on the use of neutral host models and active sharing models, and whether carrier access seekers find it easier to negotiate with neutral hosts (as opposed to vertically integrated tower operators)
  • desire to understand the impact of structural change in the industry: the impact of the recent high levels of telecommunications tower asset divestment activity, and of proposed infrastructure sharing, is not yet well understood

Reading between the lines: What can we expect from the ACCC more generally in this space

Importantly, the ACCC is required to produce a factual report detailing evidence-based findings, and has not been asked to provide its recommendations to the Government.  However, we expect the ACCC is likely to actively scrutinise access seekers’ experiences in the wake of the divestment of tower infrastructure, and tower operators - in particular, vertically integrated tower operators - can expect ongoing close ACCC scrutiny of the terms of access offered to access seekers.

Next Steps

Further information on the consultation process will be placed on the ACCC website and communicated through the ACCC’s Communications Information Network and Regional Mobile Infrastructure Inquiries email communication lists. Stakeholders are encouraged to email the inquiry team at [email protected] to express an interest in contributing to the inquiry.

We’d love to talk to you about what the Consultation Paper could mean for your business – please get in touch.

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