Trans-Tasman mobile roaming talks hit roadblock

Australia's free trade agreement with the US stalls discussions over mobile roaming rates

Discussions between New Zealand and Australia to reduce the cost of trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges appear to have run into a roadblock because of Australia’s free trade agreement with the US.

A joint investigation into trans-Tasman mobile roaming was launched by both governments in April and at the time ICT Minister Steven Joyce indicated that regulation was on the cards.

“Many New Zealanders take their mobile phone, tablet or laptop with them when they travel to Australia. They need to have confidence that they are purchasing services in a competitive market. If this investigation finds they are not, then regulatory intervention will be considered,” Joyce said in a press statement.

The Ministry of Economic Development now says there are a wide range of issues that need to be considered, including international obligations such as free trade agreements.

“Both New Zealand and Australia are investigating issues specific to their country,” a spokesman says in a statement.

Computerworld contacted Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which says it is working with the Australian Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on a range of issues in relation to international mobile roaming and Australia’s international trade obligations.

It’s understood that DFAT is concerned that under the US treaty Australian carriers may have to offer US visitors lower rates but that Australians would not receive the same treatment in the US.

In New Zealand, the inbound visitor roaming market is estimated to be worth around $100 million annually. In fact, 2degrees deliberately targeted international tourists when it was established two years ago. Its then chief commercial officer Bill McCabe said it had signed roaming agreements with 150 international carriers. Queenstown was chosen as a major location because it is a “hot” tourist destination.

International mobile roaming rates are a focus for regulators around the world. The European Commission this month announced a plan to secure lower prices for customers by increasing competition.

Vice president Neelie Kroes described international charges as “outrageous” and said the plan would be a fundamental new approach because the current system was not working. She accused the mobile companies of turning retail price caps on charges into price floors.

The commission proposes to introduce retail price caps for data roaming and to keep in place retail price caps for voice calls and text messages. The plan will now go to the European Parliament for consideration.

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