news Telstra has said that the universal service obligation (USO), which guarantees that every Australian has reasonable access to a phone, should not be abandoned.
The USO is currently under review by the Productivity Commission, which will examine the “role and relevance” of the arrangements in today’s changing market.
Telstra currently has responsibility to fulfil the USO, and operates around 17,000 payphones around the country providing access to local, national and international calls for a fee, as well as free 24-hour emergency calls, and operator and directory assistance.
It is further obliged to provide a standard telephone service (STS) by giving customers access to a reliable telephone service.
The firm relies on a combination of government and industry funding to the tune of almost $300 million to meet its USO obligations.
In an article on its website, Telstra has said that, while some people have said that the increasing use of mobile phones means the USO is no longer necessary, it believes that phone companies should still have an obligation to make sure everyone can connect.
“While the technology people use changes with time, the basic need to connect does not,” the firm said.
Telstra is of the opinion that the USO has been a “successful government policy” that has meant that people “can still pick up the telephone and make a call”, even in the most remote parts of the country.
The USO has also been “explicitly designed” to ensure that customers with a disability have a phone service that “works for them”, it added.
“Changing technology does mean that the USO should be updated to so that we always have the option to use the best technology to give customers the best connections possible, whether that’s through fibre, copper or wireless,” said the article’s author – Jane van Beelen, Telstra’s Executive Director for Regulatory Affairs.
“As the NBN is rolled out to connect every home and business with fast internet, using the same network to deliver the USO may be a smart option,” she said.
However, van Beelen said, since the NBN is not expected to be completed until 2020, “that won’t be possible”.
“A phone that only connects to a limited number of people is not much use, but the USO means Australian consumers, communities and businesses benefit from the ability to talk to each other via the phone network,” the Executive Director said.
“We’re looking forward to more discussion about how to make sure Australians get the most out of the USO, now and in the future,” she concluded.
Image credit: Telstra