Payphones are an important part of telecommunications in Australia. With technology evolving, last year we began a project to enhance the services that can be accessed from around 1,800 of our payphones. This is the first major redesign of the payphone booth since 1983.

We can install and upgrade payphones on the basis that they are “low impact facilities” under the Telecommunications Act. A number of local councils have questioned whether the size and design of the upgraded payphone booths means they are still a low impact facility. Like many outdoor facilities, including bus shelters and other street furniture, payphone booths have long been used to display advertising, and concerns have also been raised about the larger size of the advertising screens on the new booths.

To clarify whether the new booths are a low impact facility, the City of Melbourne recently commenced proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) challenging our right to upgrade payphones in the Melbourne city area.

Because we operate a national payphone network, we think the best path is to ask the Federal Court to decide whether our new payphones are a low impact facility, so we have one judgment that applies across Australia. This will avoid the time and cost of court action in other states, and should mean a quicker, consistent outcome.

Telstra provides over 15,500 public payphones across the country. Payphones in regional and metro areas provide a vital civic utility, with 13 million calls made last year, 200,000 of which were emergency calls to ‘000’. And despite the growth of mobile phone usage, payphones remain a critical piece of social and community infrastructure, serving some of our most vulnerable citizens in their times of need.

We really believe our new payphones will play a critical role in our cities as they become smarter and more reliant on telecommunications infrastructure.

Over time, our new payphones will provide a number of additional services, designed to support Australia’s public communication needs for the next 20-30 years. They could contain a range of features including digital screens, Wi-Fi, 5G enabled technology, mobile device charging, as well as providing a space for communicating everything from emergency alerts to a range of content services such as public transport information to city maps, weather, tourist advice, information on nearby cultural attractions and the ability to promote the work of charitable organisations.

In designing our new payphones, we’ve consulted with a range of stakeholders, including urban designers, academics, local councils, road safety authorities and the police, to ensure that they are safe, do not clutter streets and continue to serve local communities.

Notwithstanding the decision to take this action, we will continue to engage and work with all stakeholders, including local governments and other associations on this project.