ACCC seeks submissions on competition effects of OTT, NBN, mobile data

New telco trends including OTT apps, the NBN rollout, Wi-Fi, IoT, M2M, cloud services, SDN, and NFV have spurred the ACCC to examine competition and the effectiveness of current market regulation.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has released an Issues Paper for its study into the telecommunications industry in order to examine new and growing telecommunications trends that are expected to have a significant impact on competition in the fixed and mobile network services industries.

"This market study provides an opportunity to examine competition in Australia's evolving communications markets, recognising the significant changes in how communications services are supplied and used," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

"The study will assist our understanding of how these trends are affecting competition, and ensure regulatory settings remain responsive to drive good consumer outcomes."

The ACCC will be examining the "significant" changes that have occurred in the communications market -- including the emergence of the National Broadband Network (NBN) company as the primary fixed-line provider; the widespread availability of over-the-top (OTT) service providers; the sharp increase in data usage thanks to streaming services such as Netflix; and the growing reliance on mobile data and Wi-Fi rather than fixed-line internet services.

"Rapidly evolving technological developments, structural change within the sector, product innovation, and changing consumer preferences are all contributing to a changing communications environment," the Competition in evolving communications markets: Issues Paper [PDF] says.

"Some of the changes we are observing that suggest it is timely to undertake this market study include: The changing structure of communications markets, particularly as we transition to a fixed-line market in which NBN Co will be the primary wholesale provider of services to RSPs and there is consolidation and market concentration within the retail sector; the growth and availability of services provided OTT using the internet as a delivery platform; ... the increased use of mobile data by consumers; and the increasing preference for mobile devices as a way to access the internet.

"The availability of Wi-Fi services is also facilitating the use of mobile services and further improvements are anticipated with the deployment [of] 5G."

The ACCC is seeking submissions from industry on 89 questions contained within the Issues Paper, including on the effects on competition and regulatory issues by: IP voice; OTT messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, iMessage, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Snapchat; Internet of Things and machine-to-machine services; NBN pricing and CVC charges; Telstra's structural separation undertaking and migration plan; MVNOs; Wi-Fi usage by fixed and mobile network operators; cloud services; and software-defined networking and network function virtualisation technologies.

The ACCC is also seeking to hear about the management of traffic across networks as data usage grows; whether non-fibre fixed-line services can meet data requirements in future; the level of substitution between fixed-line and mobile services, and whether this will lead to further industry consolidation; whether current interconnection arrangements between Telstra, Optus, and TPG, and smaller service providers is inhibiting more efficient practices or technologies; what kinds of arrangements exist in similar markets internationally; the impact of reducing the regulated price for domestic transmission capacity services; whether international transmission routes will have enough capacity and redundancy; and whether data being held offshore by cloud providers is a concern.

The ACCC announced last month that it would be conducting the communications industry market study, with submissions being accepted until October 14.

The Issues Paper -- which will not be examining the universal service obligation (USO), as it is being addressed under another government inquiry -- is also looking into whether mobile network infrastructure should be shared across Australia.

The latter was also announced on Monday, with the ACCC flagging the commencement of an inquiry into wholesale domestic mobile roaming services. According to the regulator, a declared roaming service would provide more choice for consumers by allowing telcos to piggyback off each other's infrastructure in rural areas to provide coverage in areas where they don't have their own mobile network.

"Consumers are increasingly relying on mobile services, and the issue of coverage and a lack of choice in some regional areas is a particular issue that has been raised by a number of groups," Sims said.

"A particular area of concern for us is whether consumers would, in fact, be disadvantaged if the incentives to invest in expanding the reach of mobile networks were reduced."

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield seized the opportunity of the ACCC's announcements to say the federal government is also looking into Part XIB of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 in regards to telecommunications competition law.

"The Turnbull government is inviting submissions on the ongoing operation of telecommunications conduct regulation following the release of proposed changes to general competition law," Fifield said.

"Part XIB of the Act was introduced in 1997 to support the transition to open competition in the telecommunications sector. With the proposed changes to Section 46, there is a need to consider the operation of the telecommunications-specific arrangements in Part XIB."

The government is accepting submissions on Part XIB until September 30.

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