Industry supports debate surrounding Telstra's USO obligations

Focus is also on wholesale pricing and legislative amendments

Both government and industry have proposed alternatives to Telstra's role as the primary Universal Service Obligation (USO) supplier in new greenfield and broadband environments.

Participants at the Communications Alliance conference held this week supported the federal government's current review of Telstra's USO obligations during the period 2008 to 2011.

The review is looking at alternatives to the current obligations.

The major telecommunications providers including Telstra and Optus joined Multimedia Victoria and telco vendors to debate the need for the USO in greenfield installations, and whether Telstra would be required to provision PSTN to new sites.

Communications Alliance CEO, Anne Hurley, said the participants sidestepped the current USO debate, in which Telstra claims it has lost some $500 million in provisioning the legislation, instead focusing on philosphical issues including the requirement of a USO in a Fibre-to-the-Node (FttN) environment.

"The intent of the exercise was to explore the commonalities in industry with how to deal with the USO for greenfield sites, and during the move to broadband," Hurley said.

"It was set in a fresh context to examine the objectives of the USO, the alternatives [to the current environment] and its impact on wholesale pricing.

"Telstra called for alternatives to the USO for greenfield sites, which requires the telco to install [PSTN] services regardless of the network.

"There were suggestions to change the legislation or create new license agreements."

About 50 delegates attended the event including the head of regulatory economics at Optus, Jason Ockerby.

The USO review follows repeated requests from Telstra to level the USO playing field, which demands telecommunications providers contribute a percentage of their revenue to the maintenance and development of standard telephone services such as payphones.

Under existing policy, Telstra must be the USO provider in all circumstances which means the telco would lay the groundwork in a new estate regardless of whether or not it won the infrastructure contract.

Figures from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) show Telstra contributed 71 percent to the total funds of the 2002 to 2003 USO, while its nearest rival Optus coughed-up 16.6 percent and a further 75 carriers paid less than one percent.

Meanwhile, the Communications Alliance this week released two guides advising business and consumers on deploying Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

The 28 page booklets, dubbed "So you want a VoIP service?" and "The seven steps to VoIP", were created by the VoIP Working Group and outline the need for reliable broadband, quality of service and offers advice on how to choose a provider.

The Communications Alliance has also established a working committee to develop quality of service guidelines for VoIP provider and end users which will be based on ratings provided by the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T)

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