The government policy that makes sure every Australian can use a phone to connect is being reviewed.
The technology that gives you the ability to pick up a phone and call someone has been part of our lives for so long, it is almost easy to forget how life changing it can be.
To ensure that every Australian has reasonable access to a phone, no matter where they live or run a business, the Government created the Universal Service Obligation (USO). At its most basic, it means that even if you live hundreds of kilometres from your nearest town you will be connected to the telephone network.
When you’re out and about, the USO also makes sure that there are payphones available – and Telstra currently operates around 17,000 of them to keep people connected.
The USO is under review by the Productivity Commission, which is a great opportunity to research and discuss the telecommunications needs of Australians now, and in the future.
We believe the USO has been a successful government policy. It has meant that even in the remotest parts of our big country, people can still pick up the telephone and make a call. It has also been explicitly designed to ensure that customers with a disability have a phone service that works for them.
At the moment, Telstra is the only company with the capability to connect every Australian. That’s why the Government has given us the responsibility of making the USO a reality. By using a combination of government and industry funding we make sure a phone is always in reach.
Some people have claimed that the increasing use of mobile phones means the USO isn’t necessary any more, but we believe phone companies should still have an obligation to make sure everyone can connect – even in areas without great mobile reception. While the technology people use changes with time, the basic need to connect does not.
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.
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. But that won’t be possible before the project is finished, which nbn co. doesn’t anticipate achieving until 2020.
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. 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.