Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn says that the company will take a proactive approach to addressing the impact of aging landline infrastructure on regional telecommunications services.
In a blog entry posted on the company’s Exchange site, the CEO said that although Telstra was meeting the standards required of it under its Universal Service Obligation (USO) agreement with the government, “there are still some customers who have to wait longer than they should for a service to be restored”.
Penn said that Telstra was expanding its regional maintenance plan to “further to address the primary sources of regional faults”.
The CEO said that Telstra would undertake the proactive repair of cable joints, which he said is a common cause of faults in regional Australia.
Penn said that Telstra also planned to replace 200 batteries located in exchange and roadside cabinets where mains power failures are more frequent and reduce repair time delays by increasing its stock of pair gain units.
The telco will also shift some 350 customers that still rely on dated High Capacity Radio Concentrator point-to-point infrastructure for their home phone connections onto NextG Wireless Local Loop (NGWL) services.
Figures included in the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review revealed that HCRC network was delivering 14,000 individual services to 6400 premises in remote areas of Australia.
The review panel said that during its consultation process it heard that households connected via HCRC had “experienced lengthy outages and repair times”. One of its recommendations was that “industry be asked to bring forward new and innovative solutions for providing voice services in rural and remote Australia, particularly for areas served by the [HCRC]”.
The report of the review, which was published in December, concluded that there was “little to no” free market impetus to invest in the kind of communications infrastructure required to maximise economic opportunities in rural and remote areas. It called for a program of co-investment between the public and private sectors, as well as a “large scale, multi-year” Stronger Regional Connectivity package funded by Canberra.
Telstra currently delivers the USO under a 20-year contract with the government. The USO requires the telco ensures Australian households have access to basic telephony as well as maintain payphones in regional areas.
The government is planning to phase out the USO and replace it with a Universal Service Guarantee, which will include a broadband component delivered via the NBN. However, voice services will be covered by the existing Telstra USO contract.
Telstra’s program of works was welcomed by the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC), which draws together 21 organisations including the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), Better Internet for Rural; Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR), and the National Farmers Federation.
“Many of our members have been adversely impacted by a deteriorating landline service that is often not fixed within the specified Customer Service Guarantee timeframe,” said Teresa Corbin, the CEO of ACCAN.
“This was recognised by the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee, who said in their final report that they were ‘appalled’ at some of the excessive repair times reported for landline services, which extended through weeks and even months in some cases.”