Politicians have joined a call for mandated roaming to improve mobile phone reception in remote areas. 

Currently, mobile phone towers are locked to specific providers. In regional areas, this means that only customers with that provider, typically Telstra, can use the service.

But regional federal MPs want the towers unlocked for other providers to allow ‘mandated roaming’.

They say this would help improve social and economic outcomes in rural areas and assist in natural disasters.

“We should be opening up these towers for multi-service so if you're travelling, working or living in regional Australia you can get a phone signal,” says independent Member for Indi Helen Haines.

The Nationals have joined the call for mandated roaming too. 

However, Telstra and others have warned that unlocking towers could be a disincentive to invest in regional Australia, and may not improve connection issues for locals.

“I think the engineers that work for each carrier are probably best to advise whether this is a solution for them, rather than an MP who may not be qualified in this area,” Better Internet for Regional Rural and Remote Australia co-founder Kristy Sparrow has told reporters.

Telstra says it has invested $11 billion in national mobile networks to date, and claims mandated roaming would only drive up prices for customers and stifle investment in the regions.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” a Telstra spokesperson has told reporters.

“Mandated roaming may sound like a simple way to increase mobile coverage, but it would actually threaten the long-term future of rural and regional Australians.”
Telstra’s rival TPG says infrastructure sharing would deliver new choices to regional communities.

Meanwhile, Independent telecommunications analyst Paul Budde says increasing market competition is “always better”.

“Providing infrastructure is extremely costly … in some areas it doesn't make sense to have three mobile network towers in places where there are only 500 people,” he said.

“We should look at what's best for the customer and if it's better for the customer to have [mandated mobile] roaming, then the ACCC will have to start looking at the reality.”