Two years ago the Australian and New Zealand communications ministers agreed to investigate trans-Tasman roaming rates. At the time Stephen Joyce and Senator Stephen Conroy suggested they might regulate.
Although that regulation moment appears closer, don’t hold your breath. Governments rarely move quickly on these matters.
Yesterday the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment published submissions responding to a list of suggested options.
Tuanz: scrap roaming charges
Tuanz – the New Zealand telecommunications users group – wants to scrap all roaming charges between the two countries.
While this sounds radical and will no doubt worry telcos it isn’t extreme. Europe is heading in the same direction. In theory the Australia and New Zealand economies are almost as closely tied as the European ones.
InternetNZ wants link roaming to the planned spectrum auctions – making spectrum licences conditional on better roaming behaviour or, like Tuanz, scrapping roaming charges.
A key test for any government intervention is “has the market failed?”. Economists might question whether trans-Tasman roaming is a failed market in an abstract, academic sense. Others prefer a common sense approach. Business people will notice the dampening effect roaming rates have on trade between the two nations.
The rest of us just know something must be wrong if the first thing we have to do on landing is buy or refresh a pre-paid Sim card on a local network, then worry about diverting calls to the new number. That can get tricky if device settings need changing at the same time.
Telcos: What market failure?
Telecommunications companies on both sides of the Tasman argue competition is enough to push down roaming prices and regulation is unnecessary. In Australia Optus says the problem is really a lack of consumer information – that’s a startling, arrogant claim.
True, prices have fallen in recent years – as much as 90%. Cynics might argue that’s less about competition and more about heading off government regulation.