Original media release from the page of the Hon Michelle Rowlands MP, Minister for Communications (30/10/2023).
The Albanese Government is today opening a broad consultation with industry and the community on the delivery of a modern and more fit-for-purpose Universal Service Obligation (USO).
The USO is a longstanding telecommunications safeguard that ensures all Australians can access fixed phone services and payphones, regardless of where they live. The USO is currently delivered by Telstra, and relies on ageing copper wire that is increasingly expensive to maintain.
New and emerging technologies present new opportunities to deliver voice services in Australia.
By the end of next year, more than 97 per cent of Australian premises will be able to access to high-speed, fixed line or fixed-wireless broadband over the NBN network that can support quality voice services. Commercial mobile networks now reach up to 99.6% of the population.
The continued deployment of satellites and other technologies also shows promise for providing people in the most remote areas of Australia greater options for accessing voice services.
The consultation process will explore options to deliver better communications outcomes – particularly for rural and regional, and First Nations communities who currently rely on fixed phone services to stay connected.
The Government has yet to make a decision on how best to modernise the USO, and feedback from communities, industry and interested parties will help inform next steps.
A discussion paper has been developed to inform the consultation process.
Alongside this initial consultation, the Government will commence work to establish a clear, independent and transparent body of evidence to help inform whether emerging technologies are capable of delivering suitable levels of service for the USO, with trials expected to commence in 2024.
Further consultation will also start next year to seek views on sustainable, long-term funding of services in rural and remote areas, incorporating a review of the Regional Broadband Scheme legislated to commence by mid-2024.
Submissions close 1 March 2024. To make a submission, or to view the discussion paper, visit www.infrastructure.gov.au/have-your-say
Quotes attributable to Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP:
“The Universal Service Obligation is an important safeguard to ensure all Australians can access phone services, regardless of where they live.
“As far back as 2015, I said the USO needs to respond to changes brought on by the roll out of the NBN.
“While the USO is here to stay, our Government wants to ensure it is fit-for-purpose and encompasses new and emerging technologies like quality fibre connections and satellite services.
“This new consultation process will allow industry and the community to have their say on how phone services are delivered in Australia, with a particular emphasis on rural and regional, and First Nations communities.
“The Government has not yet made any decisions on how to modernise the USO, and will be guided by the feedback we receive as part of this important consultation”.
Originally posted on the Department of Infrastructure’s website, here:
The Australian Government has an existing framework in place to provide people across Australia with access to baseline fixed voice and broadband services.
The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a longstanding safeguard that ensures all Australians are able to access fixed phone services and payphones regardless of where they live or work. As the statutory primary universal provider, Telstra is required to supply fixed voice services and payphones nationally on reasonable request. Telstra provides the majority of USO services over the National Broadband Network (NBN), however it continues to deliver USO services over copper and other networks in regional and remote areas.
Access to fixed broadband is supported by the Statutory Infrastructure Provider (SIP) regime, which provides that NBN Co and other similar providers connect premises to their networks and supply wholesale services that allow retail providers to provide broadband services with peak download and upload speeds of at least 25/5 megabits per second (Mbps).
The Australian Government is examining universal service arrangements in light of changes in available technologies and consumer preferences over recent years. By the end of 2024, more than 97% of Australian premises will have access to high-speed NBN broadband services that can support quality voice services. The deployment of satellites and other technologies also shows promise for providing greater options for voice services in the most remote areas of Australia.
A key principle for Government is that any change to existing arrangements will only be considered if there are tested and proven alternatives to existing technologies and services.
We are initially interested in hearing from stakeholders about the sorts of outcomes that a modern universal service framework should deliver. To provide time for all stakeholders to have their say, there will be further stages of consultation in 2024, including to seek views on the sustainable, long-term funding of services in rural and remote areas.
The discussion paper below provides relevant background and key questions to assist in making a submission or providing feedback.