Telstra takes City of Melbourne to court over payphone upgrade program

Seeks Federal Court ruling on whether new payphones are exempt from planning approval

Credit: Telstra

Telstra has said it is seeking a Federal Court ruling over whether its upgraded payphones can be considered “low impact facilities” under the Telecommunications Act.

A low impact facility does not require a telco to seek planning approval.

The court action comes after the City of Melbourne in March refused 81 applications by JCDecaux for planning permits to display advertising on phone booths.

“At 2.7 metres high and 1.2 metres wide, the new payphone structures are 600mm taller and 400mm wider than the older phone booths,” a statement issued on behalf of the City said.

“They are also fitted with 75" LCD screens – which are 60 per cent larger than the previous signage displays – and which are programmed to show up to four advertisements per minute.”

The council subsequently applied to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for an order that the upgraded payphones do not meet the criteria of the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018.

“We’re seeking a ruling from VCAT that the supersized payphones should require planning approval,” the chair of the City’s planning portfolio, Councillor Nicholas Reece, said.

“With nearly 90 per cent of Australians owning a mobile phone, it's hard to believe there's a need for this many supersized phone booths in the central city. Indeed, these new structures are more like digital billboards masquerading as phone booths on the footpaths of our city.”

In a blog entry published today, Telstra’s general counsel, legal and corporate affairs, Carmel Mulhern, wrote that the company had decided that seeking a Federal Court ruling was the best way to ensure nationally consistent rules.

“This will avoid the time and cost of court action in other states, and should mean a quicker, consistent outcome,” Mulhern wrote.

Mulhern said that Telstra had last year launched a project to “enhance the services” that can be accessed from around 1800 payphones.

“Over time, our new payphones will provide a number of additional services, designed to support Australia’s public communication needs for the next 20-30 years,” Mulhern wrote.

“They could contain a range of features including digital screens, Wi-Fi, 5G enabled technology, mobile device charging, as well as providing a space for communicating everything from emergency alerts to a range of content services such as public transport information to city maps, weather, tourist advice, information on nearby cultural attractions and the ability to promote the work of charitable organisations.”

Telstra operates 15,500 payphones across Australia.

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