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Thursday, 08 June 2006 17:24

Spot the USO payphone

The USO requires Telstra to: "...[ensure] that all people in Australia, no matter where they live or conduct business, have reasonable access to an efficient and reliable standard telephone service and to payphones."  So how can you tell which payphones are provided under the USO?
Telstra quantifies this 'reasonableness' in its USO standard marketing plan which has been approved by the government. It sets out a list of criteria that Telstra uses to determine where to locate loss-making payphones.

It divides these loss-makers into two categories: those where a payphone is not commercially viable but where projected revenue is expected to cover depreciation and maintenance costs; and those where projected revenues will not cover depreciation and maintenance.

To each category is assigned a set of criteria such as location of the next payphone etc which must be met before Telstra will install and retain the loss-making payphone.

Telstra claims that the 5000 payphones slated earlier this year for possible removal were "loss-making and not subsidised by a universal service fund". So presumably they do not meet the criteria set out in Telstra's USO standard marketing plan, but who's to say?

Telstra also said that of the 5,000 phones earmarked for possible removal, about 2,500 are located on private property and could, if removed, be replaced by privately-owned payphones.

So does the USO cover only payphones on public land? There is nothing in the location criteria to indicate this. I asked Telstra this questions, I did not get an answer. Only that "this table [in the USO marketing plan] means...that Telstra takes a two-stage approach to offering USO payphones. Where revenue will cover maintenance and depreciation costs there is a lower threshold to provision and therefore it is possible accede to a request in more circumstances and at closer distances from other payphones." Most unhelpful.

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