Out with TUSMA, now, in with a new USO

The government announced that TUSMA – the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency – will disappear and its work wound into the shrinking Department of Communications.

It’s a sensible move, given that TUSMA’s work was tied up heavily in an agreement that saw Telstra agreeing to meet the Universal Services Obligation for the next twenty years. Yes, twenty years.

Over that time the rest of the industry pays Telstra a levy to ensure everyone has phone access, even though the access infrastructure will eventually be provided by NBNCo. Surely, then, the opportunity to receive the payment for meeting the USO could have been tendered out to other providers?

The agreement also saw Telstra paid to maintain copper in areas outside the NBN’s fixed footprint. Clearly the belief was a standard phone line could not be delivered using anything other than a fixed line technology, even though Telstra, in its USO policy statement that they will consider “alternative transmission technologies such as satellite (and) radiocommunications”.

So, isn’t Telstra getting paid a chunk of money by its competitors to maintain an outdated notion of what consumers want and need. While the government is back at the negotiating table with Telstra shouldn’t it be addressing that 20 year USO agreement and seeing ways of reducing the burden on the industry whilst guaranteeing realistic 21st century services to customers?

They’re questions Phil Dobbie discusses with Mark Gregory, senior lecturer in electrical and computer engineering at RMIT University, and Matt Healy, the Public Affairs,Regulatory & Govt Relations Executive at Macquarie Telecom.

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