Your rights to a telephone service - the universal service obligation
You are entitled to have reasonable and equitable access to a standard telephone service and payphones, regardless of where you live or carry on business. The legislated obligation to provide this guaranteed access to service is known as the universal service obligation (USO).
The USO exists even where telephone companies other than Telstra offer local call services. You can choose whichever telephone company you prefer. However, Telstra, as the primary universal service provider (PUSP), is currently the only company obliged to provide you with a standard telephone service wherever you live or work.
What does the standard telephone service include?
For most people, the standard telephone service means the basic fixed telephone used to speak with people in other locations. Telephone companies are required to provide certain features with a standard telephone service. These features include access to:
- local, national and international calls;
- 24 hour access to the emergency call service number;
- operator assisted services;
- directory assistance; and
- itemised billing, including itemised local calls on request.
Only the supply of one standard telephone service to a customer's location is required under the USO. Your rights under the USO do not extend to mobile services, the Internet, or other enhanced telecommunications services.
Access to the standard telephone service for people with a disability
The USO also ensures access to the standard telephone service for people who cannot communicate using voice telephony because they are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment. The obligation requires that an equivalent means of communication be provided, including appropriate customer equipment to enable equivalent access. For example, communicating by text using a teletypewriter (TTY) or modem is a form of communication considered to be equivalent to voice telephony.
To enable text and voice telephony users to communicate with each other, the National Relay Service (NRS) was established to assist text-to-voice and voice-to-text translation. The NRS enables access to the telephone network through the relay of modem, TTY or one-way voice communications.
Equipment to access the standard telephone service
Your right to a standard telephone service under the USO includes the provision of a standard telephone handset if requested, but additional costs apply. If you have an impairment associated with hearing, speech, vision, dexterity or mobility, the obligation extends to the provision of equivalent forms of telephone equipment, such as volume control or hands-free phones and TTYs.
How to obtain a standard telephone service
To obtain a standard telephone service under the USO, you should contact your local Telstra office. Other telephone companies may also offer local call services in your area.
Charges for connecting a standard telephone service
There is a standard connection fee of $299 (less for customers entitled to a concession) for new connections.
In some cases, additional charges may apply. For example, where there is no readily accessible telephone network infrastructure, it may be necessary for Telstra to extend its network so that you can be connected to the network. The network extension charge is capped at $1,540.
There may also be trenching costs. This is where it is necessary for a trench to be dug to house the underground cable that connects your premises to the telephone network. You are responsible for organising and paying for this trenching. This work can be carried out by any registered or licensed cabler and it is advisable to seek quotes.
Timeframes for connecting and repairing the standard telephone service
Connection, repair and appointment-keeping timeframes are provided on Telstra's website and in the Telecommunications (Customer Service Guarantee) Standard 2011 (CSG Standard). Under the CSG Standard financial compensation is payable to customers if maximum timeframes are not met.
Maximum connection times vary from two working days to up to six months, depending on the existence of a previous connection, the population of the specific area and the availability of infrastructure (such as local telephone exchanges, main cables and radio distribution systems). From 1 January 2003, Telstra has undertaken to connect telephone services in any location within 20 working days.
If you are experiencing an extended delay in connecting or repairing your telephone service you may also be eligible for an interim service (or Telstra may choose to offer you a choice between an interim or alternative service). These offers will primarily be made to meet the CSG performance standard at locations that are not readily accessible to Telstra's network infrastructure, and which cannot be supplied within 20 working days of lodging a request or where there is an extended delay in rectifying a fault.
Having problems with your standard telephone service?
If you encounter problems getting connected or having repairs made to your telephone service, and your telephone company does not resolve your complaint, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) on telephone (freephone) 1800 062 058, TTY 1800 675 692 or fax 1800 630 614.
The TIO was established to provide free, independent, just, informal and speedy resolution of complaint. However, it is an office of last resort and you must give your telephone company the opportunity to resolve the complaint before the TIO will become involved.
Telstra's payphone website explains how Telstra will meet its obligation to supply, install and maintain payphones. The Telstra payphone website also details how Telstra decides whether to install, remove or relocate a payphone.
Telstra's main considerations are:
- size of the community and the location of the nearest payphone;
- accessibility of the site;
- availability of appropriate infrastructure;
- risk of damage from vandalism;
- the environmental impact; and
- the commercial viability of the payphone.
Telstra will consult with the local community, site owner and local government when considering the removal of a payphone.
Tips for using payphones can be found in the ACMA's Payphones fact sheet.
For more information about your rights to a standard telephone service or payphone under the universal service regime, see the ACMA website or contact the ACMA's Networks Section.
Telstra's USO website indicates how Telstra intends to fulfill its PUSP obligations.
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.