Better Telecommunications Services for all Australians

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Reg Coutts

Keywords

Telecommunications, Universal Service,

Abstract

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) scheme we have in place in Australia in 2015 was put in place over 25 years ago when the world was very different than what it is today. The paper documents how the current USO entrenches an annual subsidy of some $300 to Telstra to provide a standard telephone service over an aging copper infrastructure to regional and remote premises across Australia. The current expensive USO scheme is inadequate for people in remote and regional Australia and in the light of the NBN roll out and the demand for mobile services is in urgent need of review. The paper reviews the approach taken to providing high cost telecommunications services in rural areas both developed and developing economies across the world and draws lessons for devising a basis for a way forward. Given the now bipartisan acceptance of the rural and remote component of the NBN roll out and drawing on these lessons, now is the opportunity to scrap the current USO scheme and establish a Universal Service Fund (USF) where the NBN is the Universal Infrastructure wholesale provider with alternative retailers. The paper supports five practical interrelated recommendations that diverts current USO funding to ensure broadband and mobile services extension in rural and remote Australia as well as reimagining future payphones around public WiFi and rural community innovation.

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