news The Federal Government has asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into the telecoms industry’s Universal Service Obligation (USO) that will examine the “role and relevance” of the arrangements in today’s changing market.
The USO is a regulated safeguard that ensures access to standard telephone services and payphones “on reasonable request” to all Australians.
According to a joint statement from the Treasurer Scott Morrison, Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield and Minister for Regional Communications Fiona Nash, the USO has “supported social and economic participation”, including in areas where telephone services might not otherwise have been provided for commercial reasons.
However, with recent technological advances and shifting market structures, including the arrival of the NBN and the growth of broadband services, demand for current USO services has reduced – a trend that looks set to continue.
The Productivity Commission inquiry will examine Australia’s shifting telecommunications landscape to determine to what extent government should support universal access to a base level of telecoms services and, if so, what such policies should be.
The inquiry, which will involve public consultation, was first announced in the government’s response to the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Review, which was tabled in Parliament in February 2016.
In conducting the inquiry, the joint statement said, the Productivity Commission will consider the review’s findings and the government’s response, and must report to government within 12 months.
The terms of reference for the inquiry can be found on the Department of Communications and the Arts’ website.
This February, Vodafone CEO Inaki Berroeta spoke out on this subject, saying said Australian farmers and regional communities deserve better mobile coverage and choice.
He suggested the nation’s agriculture will never reach its potential to deliver innovation, jobs and growth for regional communities without telecoms reform to deliver more competition and more reliable telecommunications services.
“Agriculture is one of the areas where Machine to Machine (M2M) technology can make the biggest differences, but changes are needed to ensure farmers don’t miss out on the opportunity to take advantage of advances in technology,” Berroeta said.
“M2M can enable farmers to work smarter and faster, such as remotely monitor and adjust soil moisture levels, or receive live updates from the paddock on their tablets.“