The Universal Service Obligation (USO) scheme in Australia today is 25 years old. This paper shows how the current USO entrenches an annual subsidy of some $300M to Telstra. The current expensive USO scheme is inadequate and in the light of modern developments in broadband and mobile. The paper reviews the approach taken to across the world and draws lessons for a way forward to 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 as well as reimagining future payphones around public WiFi and rural community innovation.
The end of TUSMA, and the ongoing NBN Co-Telstra negotiations, herald the ideal time for a drastic rework of the Universal Service Obligation – shifting it to NBN Co rather than Telstra, and bringing mobile into the mix. That’s the view of industry veteran professor Reg Coutts, a member of the expert panel that advised on the previous version of the NBN. And with Coutts’ ideas including the possible provision of more mobile backhaul in regional areas, this concept might just mesh with the recent arguments from some parts of the mobile industry.