The USO ensures access to voice communication services for all Australians. The obligation has changed very little in comparison to the telecommunications market and consumers’ use of services. This presents a number of gaps and risks for consumers, such as data and mobile services. However, updating the obligation to include these services alone will likely fail consumers. This paper argues for a new framework based on a principle of contactability. This new framework will have four key areas: availability, affordability, accessibility and service standards. A further two areas; online service delivery and literacy and empowerment, are also needed to fully ensure contactability is achieved.
This paper draws upon a research paper prepared for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN). The focus of this paper is on the best way to provide every adult with universally available, accessible, affordable and empowering communications. Special attention is given to affordability, leading to a litmus test of an affordable broadband tariff. The paper proposes two options for delivering universal service objectives in future. One does not require any carrier to be nominated as the universal retail service provider. The other extends Telstra’s current obligations.
This article provides a brief introduction to a timely set of papers critically discussing universal service in telecommunications and proposing policy option. This is a longstanding public policy issue, moving once more into the foreground in Australia. The article puts the papers into context, and argues for the need to reconnect universal service policy with fertile and productive research, policy, social and technology innovation in other areas. Finally, the paper argues for the urgent need to fundamentally reimagine universal service to achieve the still relevant goal of access for all to essential communications technology.