National Communications Commission (NCC) Chairperson Howard Shyr (石世豪) on Wednesday said that the commission would soon hold an administrative hearing regarding the roaming partnership agreement between Asia-Pacific Telecom Co and Taiwan Mobile Co, adding that the partnership might have infringed both the Telecommunications Act (電信法) and the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法).
The commission launched an investigation into the roaming deal between the two fourth-generation (4G) telecom operators after three other 4G operators — Chunghwa Telecom Co, Far EasTone Telecommunications Co and Taiwan Star Telecom Corp — filed a collective complaint against the alliance.
Chunghwa, Far EasTone and Taiwan Star also said that the partnership is not permissible according to the Telecommunications Act.
Taiwan Mobile said that the partnership allows Asia-Pacific Telecom’s customers to connect to their service in areas that would otherwise not provide coverage.
A source with one of the three complainants told the Taipei Times that they have evidence proving that Asia-Pacific Telecom shares Taiwan Mobile’s network instead of building its own.
Questions over the partnership were also raised by lawmakers at the legislature’s Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said that Taiwan Mobile customers pay NT$1,399 per month for unlimited access to 4G services, whereas Asia-Pacific Telecom customers pay only NT$898 to access the same network.
Consumers are being charged unequally, Lee said.
Lee said 4G services would slow down with so many people sharing the same network, which would decrease the quality of the service.
Though Asia-Pacific Telecom acquired a 4G license, it did not build its own base stations and simply uses those set up by other operators, Lee said.
In response, Shyr said that roaming should theoretically increase an operator’s costs, because it would have to depend on networks owned by other operators to provide its services.
However, Asia-Pacific Telecom can charge consumers a relatively lower rate, he said, adding that the rates could be a violation of Article 24 of the Fair Trade Act.
If two operators use the same network to provide the same service, but consumers experience a difference in charges exceeding 50 percent, consumers could become confused over their choices among telecom operators, Shyr said, adding that the dynamics of market competition would change.
The partnership could potentially constitute elements of “deceptive or obviously unfair conduct that is able to affect trading order,” he said, referring to the Fair Trade Act article, adding that the Fair Trade Commission would have to determine if there has been any violation.
Meanwhile, Shyr said that the Asia-Pacific-Taiwan Telecom partnership could be in violation of several articles in the Telecommunication Act if the accusations made by the other telecom carriers are true.
“We will hold an administrative hearing after we complete the investigation,” Shyr said, adding that the hearing would be held in the first half of the year.
Shyr said the regulations did not ban roaming alliances among operators, but this does not mean that any form of roaming partnership is permissible.
He said that both Taiwan Mobile and Asia-Pacific Telecom have submitted business plans, in which they have listed the number of base stations they aim to build in a certain number of years.
Should the operators deviate from their plans, they could be punished based on the Regulations Governing Mobile Telecommunications Businesses (行動寬頻業務管理規則), Shyr said.
Fines could be imposed on the operators continuously should they keep failing to address any problems, he said.
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