TPG Telecom (TPG) and Telstra has lodged with the ACCC a response welcoming the overwhelming support for the proposed Telstra-TPG regional network sharing arrangement from interested parties.
A smaller set of submissions from commercially motivated competitors including Optus, ATN and Commpete, opposed the arrangement.
In almost all instances, opponents failed to provide a rational argument to support their claims the proposed regional sharing arrangement could detrimentally affect competition. Several mischaracterised the arrangement as a merger of two entities, based their arguments on factual errors, and sought regulatory outcomes unrelated to the proposal.
“Contrary to the assertions of Optus, this is not a merger,” said James Rickards, General Manager External Affairs.
“To suggest otherwise is an attempt to mislead the public, industry and key stakeholders in the hope of creating controversy where none exists. This is an infrastructure sharing agreement in the interests of all Australians.
“Similarly, statements regarding the arrangements for pooling of spectrum in the shared network have seemingly been twisted intentionally.”
Under the proposed arrangement, the spectrum of both Telstra and TPG will be pooled and shared for the benefit of their respective customers. Telstra will be authorised to use some of TPG’s spectrum for this purpose only for as long as it provides TPG with a service under the network sharing arrangement.
TPG will also provide current Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNO) customers with access to the additional regional coverage obtained under the proposed arrangement on the same terms as the rest of TPG’s network coverage.
“Claims from lobby groups and minor industry players the sharing arrangement will not benefit MVNOs, suggests they have not read or are deliberately ignoring the information provided.
“The submission from Commpete claims there is not sufficient competition in wholesale access for MVNOs but failed to recognise MVNOs will be one of the key beneficiaries of the network sharing arrangement. As a result of the arrangement, TPG will be a real alternative to the MVNO offerings of Telstra and Optus.”
If approved, the regional sharing arrangement will benefit all Australian consumers by increasing the choice of mobile service providers in regional Australia. TPG’s more than five million retail customers will gain additional coverage immediately on completion of the proposed arrangement, as well as faster access to 5G services than would otherwise be achievable.
Opponents of the proposed regional sharing arrangement included the Singtel-owned ATN, which is commercially tied to the investment decisions of Optus.
“ATN’s submission appears motivated by concerns its shareholders may not recover what they paid for the Optus and Axicom towers, which appears to have been based on obtaining TPG as a new tenant in regional Australia. TPG has no intention of materially building out its regional coverage and was never a possible customer of ATN in regional Australia.”
TPG was surprised by the recent attempts by Optus and its leadership team to leverage the suffering of communities affected by bushfires and floods for social media stunts criticising the arrangement.
“Optus has engaged in scaremongering and rolled out its executives to trumpet the same lines regarding resiliency and future regional investment. This is an insult to regional mobile users who will benefit from the network sharing arrangement.
“With the increased regional coverage available under the arrangement, TPG’s more than five million mobile customers on its Vodafone, TPG, iiNet, Lebara, Kogan and Felix mobile brands will be able to make calls and use their phones in remote areas where they have no connectivity today. It will be a lifeline for those customers when they travel around Australia.
“It is a disappointment to our industry Optus chose to use emotionally manipulative images of kangaroos seeking to escape a bushfire, in an increasingly desperate attempt to stop a competition-enhancing arrangement. Such posts have been recognised by the Australian public for exactly what they are: misguided and inappropriate.
“The best evidence the network sharing arrangement is pro-competitive is the concern from Optus and its franchisees they will lose customers to TPG. If approved, TPG will finally be in a position to compete for Optus and Telstra customers and intends to take market share in all regions.
“With Optus announcing it is following Telstra’s recent CPI-based price rises, now more than ever it is critical TPG’s innovative and great value services are available to regional customers who may feel restricted to the Optus or Telstra networks.”
TPG’s and Telstra’s ACCC response highlighted the views of the many regional and national stakeholders that provided supportive submissions, including National Australia Bank, Coonamble Shire Council, Charles Sturt University and the Canberra Chamber of Commerce. None of which have an obvious commercial basis for doing so, other than a shared recognition of the importance of improved services and competition in regional areas.
“We have welcomed the overwhelming support for the proposed regional network sharing arrangement from interested parties, many of whom have lived experience of the challenges of providing mobile services in regional and rural areas.
“This is a game-changing event for the future of telecommunications in Australia and an opportunity to provide more competition and choice to help our communities stay connected every day.”