With the initial rollout of the nbn network largely complete, and the vast majority of people now relying on the nbn for their connectivity, it makes sense to be looking at the best way of providing phone services in the bush.

Since we began providing phone services to Australian homes and businesses 140 years ago, we have faced the challenge of getting reliable services to our customers wherever they choose to live, learn and work. That challenge lies at the heart of our Universal Service Obligation (USO), which ensures standard telephone services are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis.

Telstra is a key partner of regional Australia – we invest more than any other provider to grow and improve our mobile networks and we’re the largest contributor to the USO. As a result, we’re often asked for our view on the future of the USO given the nbn rollout, and that position hasn’t changed:

  • as we get close to completion of the nbn rollout, it makes sense to review the USO to determine how it can be delivered efficiently using the mix of technologies now available and providing a good experience for consumers;
  • Government and Regulatory policy should encourage a technology-agnostic approach; and
  • no change should be made unless customers receive the same or an improved level of service.

For most of our 140-year history we have mainly used copper landlines to connect people. Today, with over 90 percent of homes and businesses now having access to the fixed nbn, we now use the nbn to meet the USO for most people.

For a small proportion of the population where it hasn’t been practical to use solely copper to connect people, mainly in remote areas, we have used a mix of copper, radio and satellite. It’s largely in these same areas the nbn is using fixed wireless or satellite to provide a connection. While these technologies are capable of delivering broadband, to date we have not been able to use them to provide stand-alone phone services.

As a result, the challenge of getting reliable services to the bush continues.

One of the Government’s key principles in rolling out the nbn has been to use the technology best matched to each area of Australia to ensure it is delivered quickly and cost-effectively. Our view is that the same principle should be used as we think through how to best meet the USO, using a mix of the latest technologies to deliver customers a better and more reliable service than they get now.

That should be our starting point.

If you consider all of the investments currently going into improving connectivity services in rural and remote Australia: the USO (around $270m annually, of which about half comes from Telstra); nbn co’s investment in its satellite and fixed wireless services; and co-funding improvements to mobile coverage from the Federal and state governments, we see an opportunity for the governments to create a more holistic and integrated solution to deliver a technology mix that works for consumers.

Our approach needs to be flexible with the customer experience front of mind and we shouldn’t be mandating one technology over another. We also need to ensure that as any changes occur we bring the people in the bush along with us to minimise any anxiety or concern with the new technology.