ACCC accepts undertaking from Telstra aimed at addressing 5G competition concerns

3 Aug 2022

A court-enforceable undertaking from Telstra has been accepted by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), with this aimed at addressing competition concerns related to the former’s registration of radiocommunications sites in low band spectrum that reportedly interfered with rival Optus’ plans to roll out its 5G network nationally.

In a press release regarding the matter, the ACCC said that following an ‘intensive’ investigation it had become concerned that Telstra’s registrations of these sites ‘had the substantial purpose or likely effect of preventing or hindering Optus from deployment of its 5G network and from engaging in competitive conduct in the retail mobile market’. According to the regulator, Telstra’s undertaking now requires it to deregister all remaining radio sites it registered with the Australian Communications and Multimedia Authority (ACMA) in the 900MHz spectrum band in January 2022 that would have prevented Optus from early access to the spectrum.

With Telstra holding a licence for parts of the 900MHz band until 30 June 2024, the ACCC noted that prior to 31 January 2022 the operator ‘was making little use of the spectrum and had not registered a new site since 2016’. However, with Optus having won all the 900MHz spectrum on offer in the ACMA’s December 2021 auction, the ACCC said that Telstra became aware that month that the ACMA would consider early access applications for these frequencies. Subsequently, on 31 January 2022 Telstra registered 315 sites in the 900MHz band, predominantly located in major cities or inner regional areas, under its existing licence. Of the 315 sites registered by Telstra on that date, Telstra later deregistered 153, with 162 remaining registered, while the ACCC claims that since January 2022 Telstra has only used ‘a limited number’ of these sites.

Commenting on the matter, ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said: ‘We were concerned that Telstra’s registration of 315 radiocommunications sites in the 900MHz spectrum band had the substantial purpose or likely effect of lessening competition by Optus, as Telstra knew of the importance of this spectrum band to Optus’ 5G rollout plan.’ The executive added: ‘Telstra’s undertaking will ensure Optus is not hindered from expanding its 5G rollout, giving more Australians access to a choice of 5G services in regional and metropolitan Australia … Telstra’s undertaking promptly addresses the ACCC’s competition concerns and stops the likely harm to competition and consumers quickly. It is an efficient and effective way to achieve a positive market outcome.’