Govt considers tendering USO

In the first step in putting the universal service obligation (USO) out to tender, the federal government announced yesterday it is calling for expressions of interest regarding tendering of the service.

The move follows industry debate into Telstra's claim that USO costs for 1997-98 amounted to $1.8 billion, compared with $251.6 million for 1996-97.

The USO is a requirement that ensures telephone services across Australia adequately meet the needs and demands of people wherever they are. As USO provider, Telstra estimates the cost of providing services within Australia each year. Following a review conducted by the Australia Communications Authority (ACA), the costs are shared between Telstra and competing carriers, based on market share.

According to communications and IT minister Senator Richard Alston, the government is considering calling tenders for the service in order to "deliver a more competitive and efficient USO".

While Vodafone, Telstra and AAPT did not respond to Computerworld requests for comment before press deadline, Cable & Wireless Optus officials welcomed the announcement and said the organisation is "actively considering" whether to tender.

The closing date for comments and expressions of interest on the consultation paper available from http://www.dcita.gov.au is May 28.

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