Responses to USO discussion paper close

Community and industry players had until last Friday to submit their views on the discussion paper regarding putting the controversial universal service obligation (USO) out to tender.

The discussion comes hot on the heels of last week's federal senate decision to cap USO costs for 1997-98 and the two following years at $252 million, (see NWWT Thursday, May 27).

A spokesperson from the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts said last Thursday that responses to the discussion paper had been encouraging.

He said the department will be working as quickly as possible to move to the next stage that will either see mechanisms put in place for the USO or a tender document released. He declined to discuss a time frame, but said it would be at least a few months.

Cable & Wireless Optus has expressed an interest in tendering for the USO.

"We do have an interest in tendering, and we are looking at it," Adam Suckling, group manager, regulatory division, C&W Optus, said.

Suckling added that there are "clearly a lot of things left up in the air" regarding a tender.

According to Suckling, Optus believes tendering is a good thing since it will introduce competition into provision of the USO, decrease cost, and result in greater choice for consumers in the bush.

"We think they should tender telephony and enhanced data services [combined]," Suckling said.

C&W Optus is currently running a trial in Western Australia providing USO services, via satellite, to people in the bush. The trial covers telephony and C&W Optus is considering extending it to include high-speed data services.

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