The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has received five access dispute notifications, four of which are between Optus and Telstra.
According to the ACCC, all of the disputes relate to the price paid by access seekers to access providers for the domestic mobile terminating access service (MTAS) – a wholesale input used by providers of fixed-to-mobile and mobile-to-mobile calls to allow their customers to call mobile phone users on other networks.
Telstra has three disputes as access seeker: One each with Hutchison 3G, Optus Mobile and Optus Networks. It also has two as access provider: One with Optus Networks and the other with Optus Mobile.
MTAS allows fixed or mobile phones to call mobile users connected to another network, where the carrier whose customer initiates the call pays the carrier whose customer receives the call for the service.
The ACCC has commenced arbitration of the disputes, during which legislation dictates the commission is unable to make any public comment on the details of the disputes.
Telco analyst Paul Budde said the current access regime is incredibly complex, where disagreement over just one or two conditions between an access seeker and access provider requires arbitration by the ACCC.
“I think altogether there are some 40 or 50 disputes on the whole access regime, and these are just the last five. It’s so complex, there are so many different angles that the dispute can arise from, and what it basically shows is the total failure of the system,” he said.
“We cannot regulate an industry if it results in these tiny but enormously complex issues that require economists and financial advisors to sort out if its $0.016 or $0.018 or whatever, and then they argue until the cows come home,” he said, adding that the arbitration process typically takes two to five years to resolve.
“What it shows is the total inadequacy of the regulatory regime to handle these sorts of disputes – we will have disputes like this forever if we continue on this road of regulation.
“The only solution is what the Minister [for communications, Senator Stephen Conroy] has been hinting at – some sort of separation between access and the services itself so you don’t get these disputes, everybody gets equal access and Telstra and Optus or whoever cannot favour itself.”
Arbitration by the ACCC is the final solution where a dispute is not resolved after private negotiations, mediation and/or conciliation.