By Donal Curtin 06/09/2018


From overseas I’ve caught up with the news that the Telecommunications Commissioner Dr Stephen Gale has decided not to deregulate the market for national mobile roaming.

The current regime (summarising a bit) is that the incumbent mobile network operators (Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees) have to provide wholesale network access to any serious new entrants. That way the new entrant is able to offer a national service from day one: offering patchy network coverage would otherwise be a big turnoff to potential customers and realistically would all but nobble a new entrant’s prospects.

National roaming is a ‘specified’ service, which in telco regulatory jargon means that it must be made available, but on commercial terms struck between an incumbent and an entrant. A more stringent form of regulation would be a ‘designated’ service, at a price set by the Telecommunications Commissioner.

I liked this decision from at least five perspectives.

One, it was correct.

Two, it was short (38 paragraphs). Maybe that was inherent in the relative simplicity of the issue under consideration. But in any event it was mercifully concise: well done.

Three, plain English, or at least as plain as you can be when grappling with telco acronyms.

Four, an appropriate bit of “behave yourselves or else” (“We remain of the view that 2degrees’ commercial roaming arrangements with Vodafone were only secured against the threat of regulation. We consider that similar difficulties could potentially arise for a new entrant as have affected 2degrees”). Effective outcomes without actually reaching for bigger sticks: good one.

Five – and this is down to the overall design of the telco regulatory regime – there is a working mechanism where the Telco Commissioner has to regularly check whether regulation of ‘specified’ or ‘designated’ services is still needed. They have to be revisited no later than five years after they’ve been regulated. An excellent idea that stops the sector being littered with redundant rules.

Though you are immediately left with the thought: why isn’t this done with regulation more generally?

Case in point – on the latest episode of The Block (no, I don’t watch either) apparently two contestants “won’t be able to market their property as a four-bedroom house for sale (or rent), because it contravenes the Government’s Housing Improvement Regulations 1947”.

That makes regulatory sense. Let’s face it, not much has changed since 1947.