Modernising universal telecommunications services

The Australian Government has an existing framework in place to provide people across Australia with access to baseline fixed voice and broadband services.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a longstanding safeguard that ensures all Australians are able to access fixed phone services and payphones regardless of where they live or work. As the statutory primary universal provider, Telstra is required to supply fixed voice services and payphones nationally on reasonable request. Telstra provides the majority of USO services over the National Broadband Network (NBN), however it continues to deliver USO services over copper and other networks in regional and remote areas.

Access to fixed broadband is supported by the Statutory Infrastructure Provider (SIP) regime, which provides that NBN Co and other similar providers connect premises to their networks and supply wholesale services that allow retail providers to provide broadband services with peak download and upload speeds of at least 25/5 megabits per second (Mbps).

The Australian Government is examining universal telecommunications service arrangements in light of changes in available technologies and consumer preferences over recent years. By the end of 2024, more than 97% of Australian premises will have access to high-speed NBN broadband services that can support quality voice services. The deployment of satellites and other technologies also shows promise for providing greater options for voice services in the most remote areas of Australia.

A key principle for Government is that any change to existing arrangements will only be considered if there are tested and proven alternatives to existing technologies and services.

A number of activities are being undertaken to support consideration of future universal telecommunications services arrangements.

Consultation on ‘Better delivery of universal services’

In October 2023 the Minister for Communications launched consultation on the delivery of a modern and more fit-for-purpose Universal Service Obligation.

The Minister’s media release is here: Albanese Government launches consultation to modernise the Universal Service Obligation

The consultation page is here: Better delivery of universal services

Trials of emerging services

To provide a clear, independent and transparent body of evidence to help inform whether emerging technologies are capable of delivering suitable levels of service to the USO, trials of voice services will be undertaken in 2024.

The department published a Request for Tender (RFT) on 9 February 2024 to seek a provider to undertake technical trials to consider the performance of potential alternative services. Tender submissions closed at 2.00pm (AEDT time) on 6 March 2024.

Funding of universal telecommunications services

As part of the consideration of fit-for-purpose arrangements for future universal telecommunications services delivery, consultation is underway on sustainable long term funding of services in rural and remote areas, incorporating a review of the Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS).

The consultation page is here: Funding of universal telecommunications services (RBS Review)

Improved data for consideration of universal services reform

In order to provide better data to support consideration of universal services reform, NBN Co and Telstra have provided detailed geographic information on the distribution of their services across Australia. The Department has developed a map which will allow users to gain a good understanding of Telstra USO services in their area, along with NBN Co’s platforms and mobile coverage. 

The Australia wide map shows USO Telstra and NBN Co service data. The map displays current Telstra and NBN Co service technologies in use in different locations, with the exception of NBN Co Sky Muster Satellite technology, as this technology is available in all areas of Australia outside of fixed-line and fixed wireless technology.

Regional Telecommunications Review

The 2024 Regional Telecommunications Review currently underway will consider the potential of emerging technologies and Universal Services Obligations as part of its work: more information about the review including the Terms of Reference is available at www.rtirc.gov.au.