The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a long-standing consumer protection that ensures everyone has access to landline telephones and payphones regardless of where they live or work.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) is a long-standing consumer protection that ensures everyone has access to landline telephones and payphones regardless of where they live or work.

Telstra is responsible for delivering the USO, and must provide standard telephone services (STS) on request to every premises in Australia within reasonable timeframes. This is both a legislative and contractual obligation.

Telstra Universal Service Obligation Performance Agreement

We administer the Telstra Universal Service Obligation Performance Agreement (Agreement) on behalf of the Australian Government. The Agreement sets out the scope of services to be performed by Telstra in delivering standard telephone and payphone services under the USO.

We regularly assess Telstra’s performance to determine whether it has met the requirements set out in the Agreement. The performance criteria are based on fixed-line and payphone standards and benchmarks made under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 (TCPSS Act). We report the results each year in our annual reporting. Performance information prior to 1 July 2016 is contained in Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) Annual Reports.

In accordance with s.71 and s.72 of the TCPSS Act, the Department is required to maintain publicly-available registers of contracts and grants, including the Agreement, on its website. Details required to be published include:

  • the name of the contractor/grant recipient;
  • the value and duration of the contract/grant; and
  • a description of the scope of services required – in this case, under Module B – STS USO and Module C- Payphones USO, of the Agreement.

The register of contracts and grants is available online.

Productivity Commission Report into the telecommunications Universal Service Obligation

USO arrangements were put in place in an era before the widespread availability of mobile and broadband services. In April 2016, the Government requested the Productivity Commission (PC) undertake an inquiry into the future direction of the USO in an evolving telecommunications market.

The Government released the PC’s report into the telecommunications USO on 19 June 2017. The report provides a range of recommendations regarding the future of universal access to a minimum level of retail telecommunication services.

The final report is available on the Productivity Commission’s website.

Government response to Productivity Commission Report into the telecommunications Universal Service Obligation

The Government released its response to the PC’s inquiry on 20 December 2017.

Building on the recommendations of the PC, the Government announced its intent to establish a Universal Service Guarantee (USG) which will provide all Australian premises, regardless of location, with access to both voice and broadband services.

The Government has started work on cost and delivery options to provide for a future USG, and will work with industry stakeholders and representatives of regional and remote Australia. We will provide further updates on the future of the USO in 2018.