In understanding commonalities between minority groups in relation to access and affordability, the paper argues that these can no longer be considered ‘minority’ issues as they affect a significant proportion of the Australian population. Rather, affordability needs to be framed as part of a wider discussion about access and accessibility. Furthermore, notions of access and accessibility should be emphasised and clearly distinguished from mere availability.
The results of ACCAN’s 2013 Affordability Forum are provided. A joint ACCAN-Anglicare Victoria research project shows that 6% of Anglicare’s clients in Victoria were deprived of all forms of telecommunications and 45% had only had one form of telecommunication service. A range of affordability policy ideas outlined at the forum are dkiscussed, with an emphasis on reforming the universal service obligation in the era of the national broadband network.
The policy of universal service must change. The 1975 world of a government-owned monopoly provider obligated to provide fixed line voice telephony has been replaced by the twenty-first century reality of Australians using fixed, mobile and text communications over a range of communications equipment and services provided by competitive providers. A new universal service must reflect those changed realities, and with it, the changed environment of a national broadband network, with competitive providers offering service and equipment choice.
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.
"Rethinking the Universal Service Obligation" - A report by Prof Reg Coutts commissioned by Vodafone Hutchison Australia. The full report is attached.
This article provides an overview of the changing legal and regulatory regime for telecommunications and related services in Australia by charting the changes in regulation from 1901 to the present, and by indicating some of the changes that are still evolving. The article is intended to provide a framework for comparison between regulatory regimes in different jurisdictions, and as the basis for further analysis of the sector.