It’s out with the old and in with the new – but it will take a while. Australia’s Universal Services Obligation (USO) is to be replaced with the Universal Services Guarantee (USG), with broadband access covered.
In June 2016, we reported on a Productivity Commission inquiry investigating potential changes to Australia’s Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (TUSO or more commonly, USO), a long-standing arrangement ensuring all Australians have access to a voice only Standard Telephone Service (STS) and payphones. Telstra is currently contracted to deliver the USO until 2032.
A draft report released late year stated the USO is well past its use-by date due to the rapid evolution of communications technologies such as the internet. The Commission recommended the USO be replaced with a universal service policy that would also provide baseline or minimum broadband services to all Australian premises.
It’s taken its time, but on Wednesday, the Turnbull Government announced its (brief) response to the Commission’s findings and a program of work to implement a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG). The USG, it says, will ensure all Australians have access to voice and broadband services, regardless of where they reside.
It will be a few more years before it is implemented as a result of the NBN rollout timeframe, and the USG will need to meet the following requirements before implementation:
- broadband services are available to all Australian premises, on request, at the completion of the NBN rollout in 2020
- voice services are available to all Australian premises on request
- any proposed new service delivery arrangements are more cost effective than the existing USO contract (including any transitional costs)
- a new consumer safeguards framework is in place following a review and associated public consultation process.
“The Government is putting new, stronger safeguards in place before making any changes to existing safeguards while the NBN is rolled out,” said Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield.
Under the USG, services are to be delivered on a commercial basis by the market in the first instance, and where this cannot be achieved, options will be developed for targeted Government measures.
Further updates on USG development will be issued next year.
In June this year, the Federal Government introduced its Telecommunications Reform Package legislation, which includes a guarantee all premises in Australia will have access to broadband download speeds of 25 Mbps minimum.
Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland is not impressed.with the Government’s progress on the USO issue.
“After eight months of inaction the Turnbull Government has only managed to produce a two page response to the Productivity Commission’s 450 page inquiry into the Universal Service Obligation (USO),” said Ms. Rowland. “A shorter version of the Government’s response would read – we will do as little as possible between now and 2020, and even then we’re still not sure.”