The Australian Competition Tribunal has upheld the decision to block Telstra and TPG's regional network-sharing deal.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) blocked the $1.8 million deal in December of last year arguing that it would have a negative impact on competition in the telco space.
The Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) agreement would have enabled TPG to access Telstra's mobile towers in regional areas which would have increased its network footprint from 96% to 98.8% of the population. That would have put it on equal footing with Telstra's MVNOs on the wholesale network.
Telstra in turn would have been able to access TPG's spectrum and TPG would have transferred or decommissioned mobile sites in regional Australia and urban fringe areas over to Telstra.
Optus argued strongly against the proposed deal citing concerns that the Telstra-TPG partnership would negatively impact competition. The deal would have put TPG's network footprint ahead of Optus' own which currently stands at 98.6% of the population.
TPG merged with Vodafone in 2021 after the Federal Court overruled the ACCC which was again arguing at the time that a merger would lessen competition.
Regarding today's decision by the Tribunal Optus CEO, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin said "We are delighted that the Tribunal has upheld the ACCC’s original decision to block this anti-competitive arrangement".
"This reinforces the importance of infrastructure-based competition and investment in our communications sector that will have lasting benefits for regional Australia."
In a statement, TPG indicated it will review the Tribunal's decision and consider avenues for further appeal including taking the matter to the Federal Court.
TPG Telecom Chief Executive, Iñaki Berroeta said "This determination entrenches the status quo for mobile coverage in regional Australia".
"We are not giving up on regional Australia and will consider our options as well as advocating for policy reform that will deliver greater competition and choice in the regions that need it most."
In its own market release statement Telstra CEO Vicki Brady said “What we’ve tried to do is take an innovative approach to improve experiences for our customers and to answer calls from stakeholders, including governments, to provide better mobile connectivity, more coverage and more choice for our customers. The agreement with TPG would deliver these benefits almost immediately and for the long term.
"As we consider this outcome, we are also calling for a rethink of policy on spectrum access in light of the ever-increasing demand for mobile data."
The full reasons for the Tribunal's decision have not been released as they contain confidential commercial information.