With Stephen Jones MP, Shadow Minister for Regional Communications. 

Labor welcomes today’s release of the Productivity Commission report into the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The comprehensive report highlights the imperative to reframe the objective for universal telecommunications services to provide baseline broadband and voice services as the NBN rolls out. This process will also require a coordinated discussion about the appropriate consumer safeguards and service standards for an NBN world.

The Commission has recommended the Government wind up the current USO obligation by 2020, in line with negotiations to deliver better value for consumers, taxpayers and industry as part of a transition. The co-operation of Government, industry, and stakeholders will be essential towards ensuring a move to new arrangements is transparent and places consumers outcomes at the centre. The migration experience matters and it’s important to avoid a repeat of the rampant consumer NBN failures seen under Malcolm Turnbull.

The report also makes several recommendations about the necessity of improving the availability and quality of information. Policy makers require a better understanding of the delivery costs of the USO, as well as the distribution of USO premises, in order to make well-informed judgements about the costs and benefits of transition options during negotiations. Better information will also enable the design of more targeted and cost-effective solutions that better leverage both NBN and mobile infrastructure to deliver universal access.

Labor has previously stated there needs to be a ‘single view’ about the layers of communications services available in regional Australia. There is an integrated quality to how different communications services interact to deliver outcomes and our public data should reflect this. We need clear line of sight into the quality, reliability and coverage of various networks which relate to USO outcomes. The Government needs to stop dragging its feet and make this a reality.

It is also telling that page 20 of the PC report under the heading — ‘a lack of policy coherence’ — and finding 9.4 raise concerns about the “the current pattern of ongoing discrete telecommunications policy reviews” and “coherence of telecommunications policy”. Just another day in the Turnbull Government.

Labor will examine the final report carefully, and consult with industry, regional communities, stakeholders and consumer groups on the recommendations contained in the final report.