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.
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.
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.
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 The 1975 world of a government-owned monopoly provider obligated to provide fixed line voice telephony has been replaced by the twenty-first century reality of Australians using fixed, mobile and text communications over a range of communications equipment and services provided by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.
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.