22 Oct 2010

Discussion paper on Universal Service Policy released

by Toby Ryston-Pratt

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, today released a discussion paper that aims to obtain feedback concerning the implementation of the Government's universal service policy. The reforms required under this policy follow the non-binding Financial Heads of Agreement between Telstra and NBN Co announced on 20 June 2010 related to the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The discussion paper requests stakeholder input concerning the regulatory framework and funding mechanisms that will allow it to meet its Universal Service Obligation (USO) and deliver other public interest services following the rollout of the NBN. The reforms necessary to meet this objective include establishing USO Co by July 2012. It is proposed that this entity will have a number of responsibilities, including:

  • the USO for voice telephony services, which requires that all Australians have reasonable access to a standard telephone service;
  • the USO for payphones, which requires that payphones be readily accessible;
  • the migration of emergency call services, such as "000" to fibre-based services as Telstra's copper network is decommissioned; and
  • the development of solutions for the continuity of public interest services, such as traffic lights.

Specifically, the discussion paper has requested submissions by stakeholders in relation to the scope and duration of relevant agreements and the development of costing methodology in relation to arrangements that must be made in order for USO Co to meet these obligations. Feedback is specifically sought in the following areas:

  • Arrangements for voice telephony
  • Arrangements for payphones
  • Arrangements for the transfer of emergency call-handling functions, with specific consideration of issues relating to the National Relay Service
  • Arrangements for migrating voice-only customers to a fibre-based service
  • Development of a technological solution for transition of copper-based public interest services
  • Funding and institutional arrangements for USO Co.
Responses are due by 3.00 pm on 5 November 2010.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.