Australia’s Communications Minister Helen Coonan has approved the latest plan by fixed line incumbent Telstra for delivering services to rural and regional areas. Under the terms of its licence the telco must submit a business plan for service provision in outlying regions every three years; Senator Coonan rejected an initial plan submitted in March for not being detailed enough. She says the new Local Presence Plan is a significant improvement. ‘It contains 27 commitments regarding Telstra’s local presence in regional, rural and remote Australia – an increase of ten commitments from the previous draft,’ Senator Coonan told ABC Online. ‘It contains more information about Telstra’s planned activities… and more detail about obtaining service level information.’ The plan will be implemented from July.
Under the plan, Telstra must now consult with local communities before decommissioning public telephony services in unprofitable areas. Coonan specifically requested the safeguard be put in place following public outcry in February 2006, when it was reported that Telstra was mulling the disconnection of 5,000 of its 32,000 public payphones. Officially, Telstra is to remove 950 of its payphones over the coming twelve months, but some sections of the press believe the telco is looking to decommission as many as five-times that number in a bid to cut costs.
Meanwhile, Telstra has signed an AUD100 million deal to allow alternative operator People Telecom to continue to resell its broadband and fixed line telephony services until the end of 2007. A current agreement between the two companies expires in July. People will resell only Telstra’s basic ADSL services after it inked a deal to utilise the broadband network of NEC Australia’s NEXTEP division to offer ADSL2+ services in January.