Telstra currently provides guaranteed voice services under our Universal Service Obligation (USO) to all Australians, no matter where they live or run a business. We provide around 50 per cent of the funding for the USO with the balance from government and the rest of industry.
We believe that it is critically important that everyone has access to essential telephone services, and this is a significant obligation.
There are more than 600,000 homes, farms, businesses and indigenous communities in areas around Australia where it is generally not viable, on a commercial basis alone, to deliver communications services. Through the reform process, protecting the interests of these customers will be at the forefront of Telstra’s considerations.
For example, we have recently built a single service to the remote community of Wattle Hills, which is about 600 kilometres north of Cairns. This involved a radio signal delivered via a 16 metre antenna supported by solar powered battery back-up, and then running a copper line into the premise. Like all other similar services that are frequently requested around Australia that are not commercially viable to build, this project was funded by the USO.
As technology advances, and with the rollout of the National Broadband Network, it makes sense to look at the best way of ensuring people remain connected in the future, in the most efficient way.
We are supportive of a review and the intent to ultimately create a Universal Service Guarantee (USG), once the nbn is fully rolled out and available to 100 per cent of Australian premises. We agree that voice services must also be available to 100 per cent of premises on request.
We are open to working with government and regional stakeholders on the reform process. We are also open to redirecting our USO contribution into our ongoing network investment to improve services in regional Australia.
Telstra contributes around $150 million per annum to the Telecommunications Industry Levy, which is three times larger than Optus’ contribution and ten times larger than Vodafone’s contribution. These funds go towards delivering vital USO services to people across the country, where it would otherwise be commercially uneconomic to deliver these vital services.
Telstra has a long-standing commitment to the provision of quality network services to all Australians, and we support USO reform that will ensure customers in regional, rural, remote and hard to reach metropolitan areas receive telephone services that are equivalent to, or better than they receive today.