Australia’s government has announced a programme of work to implement a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG), which it claims ‘will ensure all Australians have access to voice and broadband services, regardless of where they live’. As part of the development of the new USG, it has been confirmed that the existing Universal Service Obligation (USO) contract related to fixed voice services with Telstra will remain in place until replaced with a USG, following the completion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout in 2020. The decision to develop the USG, it was noted, comes following the Productivity Commission inquiry into the USO, which found the existing contract to be ‘anachronistic and costly’ and argued it should be ‘replaced by a new framework to reflect changing policy, market and technological realities’.
However, it has been noted that, before any changes to the existing USO are made, several requirements must be fulfilled, namely: that broadband services are available to 100% of Australian premises, on request, at the completion of the NBN rollout in 2020; that voice services are available to 100% of premises on request; that any proposed new service delivery arrangements are more cost effective than the existing USO contract (including any transitional costs); and that a new consumer safeguards framework is in place following a review and associated public consultation process.
Commenting on the matter, Australian communications minister Mitch Fifield stated: ‘The government is taking a ‘belt and braces’ approach to protecting telecommunications accessibility for people in regional Australia … The government is putting new, stronger safeguards in place before making any changes to existing safeguards while the NBN is rolled out.’