Tuesday, 31 January 2017 12:51

ACCAN fears reduced services if USO changed


The direction that the Productivity Commission has indicated the Universal Service Obligation will take may put some consumers at risk of having reduced services, according to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

The ACCAN is due to appear before the Productivity Commission in Sydney on Wednesday to voice its concerns about the latter's draft inquiry report on the USO.

The USO lays out the obligations that telecommunications providers have to provide access to consumers, including payphones.

"Unfortunately, the USO is stuck in the past and is not relevant for all the services that consumers need these days, including broadband – something which we are thankful the Productivity Commission has recognised,” said ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin.

"However, the direction that the Commission is advising may put some consumers at risk of a reduced service level, and being isolated from society and the community."

The ACCAN pointed out that phone and the Internet were essential services that should be available to all. The delivery mechanism needed reform so it was independently accountable and transparent.

Additionally, many consumer rights and protections are related to the USO, so the framework that establishes baseline services must be solid.

Tomorrow the ACCAN is set to raise concerns with the Productivity Commission, about voice services delivered over NBN Co's Sky Muster satellites, echoing concerns from regional, rural and remote consumers and groups.

Late last year, the ACCAN joined like-minded organisations to form the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition to highlight issues specific to communications in non-metro Australia.

"Consumers should continue to have access to voice services without any degradation in the level of service,” said Corbin. “It is not satisfactory that consumers should be put at risk in such a way by removing or lowering the quality of an essential service.

"Fixed-line voice services are vital for some consumers, particularly older people and regional, rural and remote consumers. These services are especially important in areas where mobile coverage is inadequate.

"ACCAN supports the recommendations in the Draft Report that broadband should be included as a baseline service, but we think it could go further to ensure that the new regime is adaptable and appropriate in future years."

The ACCAN will also be recommending that no consumer protections and obligations be removed from the USO until adequate alternatives are in place.

Some of the recommendations in the ACCAN's submission are:

  • The need for an overarching transparent, accountable and enforceable right to ensure that consumers can access communication services and seek redress if necessary;
  • To set out the parameters of a baseline broadband and voice service that is capable of 25Mbps download speeds and proportional upload speeds to all Australians; and
  • Further analysis on affordability of services and a review of the Centrelink Telephone Allowance and the need for a flexible community programme.
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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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