Telstra has unveiled new prices for payphone calls, offering a flat rate for calls to landlines and cutting the cost of calling Australian mobile phone numbers.
The telco said today that calls from payphones to landlines will now have an untimed, flat rate of $0.50, instead of a distance-based price. Calls to Australian mobile numbers will cost $0.50 for 10 minutes; previously the company charged $0.50 for every 35 seconds.
International calling has also been revamped, with $0.50 for 10 minutes to 11 countries, as well as lower prices to another 60 countries, the company said.
For the first time Telstra is also enabling people to directly place a call to a payphone.
“This will be of particular benefit to those communities where mobile phone usage isn’t as popular, allowing them to remain connected without a cost to them,” wrote Telstra’s payphone product manager, Pete Manwaring, in a blog entry.
Telstra operates more than 15,500 payphones. Manwaring said that in 2018, 13 million calls were made using the telco’s payphones; 200,000 of those calls were to the emergency 000 line.
“Despite the growth of mobile phone usage, payphones remain a critical piece of social and community infrastructure, serving some of our most vulnerable citizens in their times of need,” he wrote.
Manwaring said that some Telstra payphones will eventually provide additional services, which could include “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.”
The telco is currently locked in a legal battle with the City of Melbourne over the increased size of its latest-generation payphones. Telstra is seeking a Federal Court ruling on the issue, after the City earlier this year 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 in March 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 City has argued that the payphones do not meet the requirements of the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 2018, which allows Telstra to avoid seeking planning approval.
Telstra maintains payphones in remote parts of Australia as part of its Universal Service Obligation (USO) contract with the government
A 2017 Productivity Commission report estimated that Telstra receives an annual average subsidy of $2600 to $50,000 per payphone. Over the course of about a decade, Telstra’s payphones had dropped from 30,000 to around 17,000, the PC said.
“With regard to payphones, there is a strong case for winding back Telstra’s contractual obligations as soon as practicable,” the PC concluded. “The evidence of the demise of payphones is clear. Juxtaposed with the extensive coverage of mobile services, the continuation of a blanket payphones USO cannot be justified from a community-wide perspective.”
The PC proposed “a funding program for some form of community telecommunications (which could involve payphones, mobile charging stations, and public WiFi) to replace the payphones USO.”
Last year the government announced the USO would be phased out in favour of a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG).
With respect to payphones, a report issued in November 2018 by the Department of Communications and the Arts said that the “preferred approach here is to maintain the current contract, while working with Telstra and other stakeholders to review the location of payphones to better align them with real need and declining usage.”
The government in December said it would “undertake further work in this area, while continuing to work with consumers and industry on ways to improve the USG over time”. “Telstra payphones that service Indigenous communities and those outside mobile coverage would generally be quarantined,” the government said.