news Internet Australia, the peak body representing Internet users, has said the telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (USO) should be expanded to include the right for citizens to have access to the Internet via “fast and affordable” broadband.
The group said it has submitted a call for the expansion to the Productivity Commission, which is currently holding an inquiry into the USO – originally designed to ensure that everyone in Australia has access to a traditional telephone service.
“Our response is based on the underlying principle of the global Internet Society, of which we are a chapter, that ‘The Internet is for Everyone’,” said Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton. “These days, for many people, Internet access is as important as having a telephone, perhaps more important”.
In its submission, Internet Australia cited a United Nations resolution that calls for “national Internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at their core”.
The group also noted that 2016 is The National Year of Digital Inclusion.
Internet Australia’s submission to the Productivity Commission stated:
“[I]n the 21st Century access to the Internet is an essential service. Accordingly, we submit that the provisions of the Universal Service Obligation (USO) need to be expanded so as to ensure that in future access to the Internet via a suitable fast and reliable broadband connection is universally available, just as they now provide an entitlement to a telephone service”.
The submission included four recommendations.
Firstly, that the USO be extended to include the provision of broadband services that deliver access to the Internet and are “reasonably accessible” to all Australians.
Secondly, the USO should be expanded to include a “minimum level” of broadband service and that “appropriate” minimum performance standards and benchmarks for “technology neutral” broadband services be set.
Thirdly, that the USO should include provisions ensuring that access to the Internet via a “suitable fast and reliable” broadband connection is available at an “affordable price”.
Finally, that the delivery of Internet access via a “suitable fast and reliable” broadband connection should be funded by government.
Internet Australia further told the commission:
“The underlying rationale for governments to impose universal service obligations on private sector providers of essential services is to create a form of safety net for citizens who because of financial hardship, disability, or remoteness of location will not receive adequate minimum services through the actions of the market”.
It said that traditional telephony technologies are “increasingly redundant” in the Australian market place, and that the existing USOs are “failing to deliver an adequate safety net” for citizens in accessing modern communications technologies.
Internet Australia said its submission highlights the need for an “effective mechanism” to deliver an expanded USO, pointing to the fact that the NBN “only provides a wholesale service and relies on third parties to sell to consumers”.
“Delivery of Internet access via broadband under an expanded USO would involve collaboration between [NBN Co] and the retail service providers that stand between the NBN and retail consumers,” the group said.
“‘Keeping the USO appropriate in an increasingly Internet-dependent world should be a top priority for the Australian government. Failure to ensure universal access to the Internet will entrench a ‘digital divide’ and cause greater hardship for already disadvantaged groups and individuals”, Patton concluded.