Vodafone Australia treads a fine line in row over numbers

Vodafone faces fines potentially running into millions of Australian dollars after an investigation was launched into complaints that the telecoms giant has been harming competition in the Australian mobile phone market.

Three local rivals - Telstra, Optus and Hutchison - have all complained to the Australian Communications Agency that Vodafone has not been complying with rules that allow subscribers to keep their mobile phone numbers when they swap to another provider. The Australian industry code of practice calls for 90 per cent of phone numbers to be transferred within three hours and 99 per cent within two business days.

The ACA warned Vodafone on 25 November that it was not meeting these standards. It reviewed this during December and, detecting no improvement, launched a formal investigation on Thursday.

"Based on all available information, including advice from Vodafone, the ACA is satisfied that Vodafone is continuing to contravene the industry code," said Bob Horton, acting chairman of the ACA. "Any unnecessary delays in number portability are simply unacceptable."

Vodafone said the problem was technical and that it was working to sort out the situation.

"We've been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology and are currently in the implementation stage," said Grahame Maher, chief executive of Vodafone Australia. "We're unfortunately experiencing some teething problems, and this can contribute to the delays that some customers are experiencing with porting their number. Resolving this issue is a key priority for Vodafone."

The investigation is expected to take a month, and if the ACA finds that Vodafone has deliberately blocked portability or has been slow in solving the problems, it is likely to levy fines. These could be as high as A$250,000 (£100,000) a day, running from the original warning. To date, this would mean A$8m in fines for the company.

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