ACCC takes Australian voice MTAS down to 1.19 cents from 2021

Rate for Mobile Termination Access Services (MTAS) set until mid-2024.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced its final decision on Friday to drop the price of MTAS for voice services from AU$0.017 per minute to AU$0.0119 per minute from January 1. 

MTAS is a wholesale service that allows consumers to send and receive calls and messages between different mobile phone network providers. If unregulated, it would allow telcos to charge higher prices for incoming calls and text messages from other providers.

In the case of Australia, MTAS has been regulated for almost two decades, and this started out at a rate of AU$0.21 per minute.

In its decision, the ACCC said even though the large mobile network operators (MNOs) might not "respond significantly" to a drop in price, mobile virtual network operators would.

"The ACCC considers that the net impact on the MNOs may have become small as the MTAS represents both a cost and a revenue," it wrote.

"On the other hand, the MTAS may have a more significant impact on fixed-line network operators and MVNOs, as it represents a direct and indirect cost, not a revenue."

When it released its draft decision in May, the ACCC suggested a price of AU$0.0122 per minute until 30 June 2024.

"The ACCC considers that a flat rate MTAS price across the FAD [final access determination] period is more appropriate than having the MTAS price reduce marginally every year over the course of the FAD period. However, the ACCC acknowledges that the adoption of the 2020 cost estimate gives rise to concern that the MTAS price does not take into account forecast cost reductions," it said.

"As such, the ACCC has come to the view that it would be more appropriate to account for the estimated reduction in the MTAS cost in setting the flat rate MTAS price."

Last month, the Commerce Commission New Zealand issued its final decision on whether to deregulate MTAS across the ditch, choosing to roll over the current arrangements in place and leave the services regulated.

Of particular interest was whether over-the-top (OTT) services were able to be a competitive replacement for voice or text services. ComCom said, however, they were not an effective constraint yet and deregulation would result in higher prices, particularly for voice.

"Our final position is that we consider that OTT services are currently not at this stage an effective constraint against MNOs profitably raising MTAS rates for voice services," the final decision said.

"This is because there is some doubt that enough consumers using mobile calling services would switch to OTT services to constrain MNOs from profitably increasing MTAS rates. In this case, ongoing regulation of MTAS for voice services at this time is likely to benefit consumers by preventing MNOs from passing increases in MTAS rates through to retail prices."

The current MTAS rates are NZ$0.06 per SMS and NZ$0.0356 a minute for calls.

Viagogo penalised AU$7m for misleading consumers about ticket prices

Viagogo AG has been penalised AU$7 million for making false or misleading representations when reselling tickets for live music and sports events. 

The Australian Federal Court ordered the penalty on Friday morning after it found Viagogo created misleading representations for consumers that used its booking platform. 

Viagogo conveyed to consumers that certain tickets sold on its platform could be purchased for a particular price, but they were not made aware of booking fees, such as a 27.6% booking fee, until late in the booking process.

In addition, the court also found that Viagogo, from 1 May 2017 to 26 June 2017, attracted consumers by advertising a headline price which did not specify a total price for tickets. It also failed to adequately disclose to consumers that it was not a primary ticket seller.

"There is no dispute that the conduct of Viagogo was deliberate in the sense that the design and implementation of the Viagogo ad and the Viagogo Australian website were deliberate and not inadvertent," Justice Stephen Burley said in his judgment.

"Viagogo's responses give it the appearance of being a company that is indifferent to the interests of Australian consumers and which prefers to elevate its own profit motives above those interests, even when on notice of the potential for harm being done."

Examples of Viagogo's misleading representations include a ticket for the Book of Mormon advertised at AU$135 that was sold for AU$177.45 once booking and handling fees were included, and an Ashes cricket ticket advertised as costing AU$330.15 but actually having the price of AU$426.81.

ACCC chair Rod Sims labelled the company's business practices as unacceptable and hopes the court's decision deters companies from conducting such behaviour in the future 

"Today's AU$7 million penalty sends a strong signal to businesses like Viagogo conducting business in Australia that they cannot get away with profiting from misleading Australian consumers about the price of the tickets they are selling, or other misleading conduct," Sims said.

In his judgment, Burley said he came to the AU$7 million penalty figure as it had to be substantial enough for Viagogo to recognise the seriousness of its conduct.

Along with the penalty, which is split into four breaches of Australian Consumer Law, the court has also ordered Viagogo to conduct a compliance program and pay the ACCC's costs. 

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