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    Steve Tinker.

Telstra: Roaming is not an option

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Telco giant Telstra has disputed a Wimmera regional development leader’s call  to overturn a ban on domestic roaming. 

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Telstra regional general manager Steve Tinker said regulated roaming was the ‘wrong solution’ to improve mobile-phone services in rural and regional Victoria. 

His comments came after Regional Development Australia Grampians chairman Stuart Benjamin joined Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson in a push for telecommunications companies to look at domestic roaming possibilities

The practice is restricted to foreign mobile-phone users, who can jump between Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or other operators’ towers. 

Mr Benjamin questioned the viability of each telecommunications company installing its own mobile base stations in areas, which resulted in several towers in one location. 

He said he believed if domestic roaming was possible, one tower at each location would suffice. 

In response, Mr Tinker argued lifting the ban would result in a reduction in investment in rural and regional telecommunications services. 

“Regulated roaming would freeze investment in mobile connectivity for regional and remote areas,” he said. 

“It would leave the Grampians and Wimmera-Mallee stuck in the past, using yesterday’s technology. I’m sure that’s not something Mr Benjamin wants to see.” 

Minister Henderson and Mr Benjamin requested Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, ACCC, and Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher look into the issue.

The ACCC has ruled on three occasions in the past not to extend the same rights to domestic users. In 2017, the national regulator declared in its ‘Domestic mobile roaming declaration inquiry’ it was not satisfied a domestic roaming service would promote the long-term interests of end-users. 

Mr Tinker said Telstra backed the regulator’s decision. 

“When the ACCC did a thorough inquiry into regulated roaming just a few years ago, they decided it wasn’t the right move,” he said. 

“We absolutely agreed, and since that time we’ve been building an even bigger and better mobile network.”

Mr Benjamin also argued Australian mobile-phone users’ inability to roam between signal towers was putting lives at risk, especially during bushfire crises and other natural disasters. 

He used 2019-2020 bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales, a major storm in Victoria’s east and lack of connectivity on Wimmera farms as examples. 

However, Mr Tinker said regulated roaming would be ineffective in natural disasters because major power outages affected all telco companies equally. 

He said the burden of improving mobile services in rural and regional parts of the country fell on all telecommunications providers and state and federal governments across Australia. 

“Using the fear of natural disasters might grab people’s attention – but the question should be why our competitors aren’t willing to invest in making communities safer,” he said.

“Attacking Telstra, often the only company investing to connect people, is misguided.

“Mr Benjamin’s suggestion would do nothing except reward our competitors for their lack of interest in actually being part of regional Australia. They have the cash and technology to roll out better regional coverage, but they continue to choose not to.

“The $75-million investment to enhance regional connectivity we announced on June 30 comes on top of $150-million we’ve already set aside specifically for regional investment this financial year and the $200-million fund we’ve created to support more co-investments. 

“We all want better coverage for regional Australia, which is why Telstra is investing. 

“No one is more committed to improving mobile connectivity in regional and remote areas than Telstra.”

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