Landlines and the humble payphone will live a while longer yet with the Government affirming that Australians will continue to have access to these tried and true communication tools.
The news comes as a relief to Australians who live outside city bounds.
Currently, access to landlines and payphones is guaranteed through a consumer protection known as the Universal Service Obligation. The USO ensures all Aussies have ‘reasonable’ access to a fixed voice and payphone service.
A while back, the Government considered overhauling this commitment, to include access to ‘voice and broadband’ regardless of whether you live, via a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG).
On face value this sounds great – but not if it’s at the expense of reliable landlines.
Part of the proposal was to switch voice services to fixed wireless and satellite technology (through the nbn) and to decommission the copper network – which landlines use to operate. It also proposed the end of the payphone footprint.
The National Farmers’ Federation, through the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC), was concerned that the proposed change would have dire consequences for regional and remote Australians.
“It’s true that significant improvement has been made, via the nbn and the mobile blackspot programme, to mobile phone and internet services in regional Australia,” NFF President Fiona Simson said.
“Unfortunately there remain many areas across the nation where mobile service is not existent or not reliable.
“And NBN’s Sky Muster, is delivering great results but there remain teething problems.”
“For these people, the house or office phone remain the primary mode of voice communication. Payphones can be lifeline, especially for those in remote communities.”
Today the protests from the bush were heard and acknowledged, by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.
The Minster said the new USG would retain the ‘USO arrangements’ – i.e. the provision of the landlines via the copper network and payphone.
While, a future where voice services are provided by new technologies is a priority, the Minister conceded now was not the right time.
““We have listened to regional Australians and heard the importance of maintaining existing copper and wireless networks for fixed voice calls in nbn’s fixed wireless and satellite areas.
“We will not make changes that affect regional Australians until there are robust and proven alternatives to the existing USO,” the Minister said in a statement.
Minister Fifield said while mobile phone uptake had largely negated the need for payphones, it was important to ‘quarantine’ this service in some areas, for example in remote indigenous communities.
Ms Simson said the news was a win for common sense.
“Those of us who live and work in regional and remote Australia, know the importance of landlines and payphones.
“The ability to access a payphone in an area where mobile phones service is not available, can literally be the difference between life and death, in an emergency situation.”
The announcement came in parallel to the release of the 2018 Regional Communications Review, which is carried out every three years by an independent panel.
The review made 10 recommendations for Government to guide them in their quest to continually improve the quality of mobile phone and connectivity in the bush.
The recommendations focussed on:
- Increased investment in communications infrastructure
- Improved consumer protections
- Increased data and more equitable meterage
- Improved digital inclusion and literacy
Read the 2018 Regional Communications Review here http://www.rtirc.gov.au/