Surprise! The country's most outspoken body representing Aussie 'net users says that access to the internet is important. Moreso, Internet Australia says that access to data services should be officially recognised as a indelible part of the Universal Service Obligation that already covers telecommunications access.
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Australia's Productivity Commission is currently holding an inquiry into the USO, and Internet Australia's CEO Laurie Patton met yesterday with the commission to advocate for internet access to be included in a revision of the universal service obligation. Australia's USO is funded by the Telecommunications Industry Levy, and is outdated in that it still broadly covers the PSTN telephone network and access to payphones throughout the country.
Telstra is currently the only telco in Australia with obligations under the USO, but the introduction of the National Broadband Network bringing telecommunications purely over the top of fibre data connectivity means that the bill itself is in desperate need of updating to suit the changing needs of the Australian public. Internet Australia's suggestion is that broadband be classified as an essential service and mandated through the USO, especially given the increasing prominence Australia's government is giving to government services like MyGov and eTax being delivered digitally.
In his statement, Patton also mentioned the fact that many Australians with disabilities are better able to communicate over the internet than over the telephone, and that anyone without broadband access is "likely to be left behind" as technology rapidly evolves. Whatever the state of the NBN, its continuing rollout will involve many Australian homes being disconnected from their existing copper telephone lines and transitioned to some form of fibre- and copper- mixed technology network.
The Communications Alliance, the body representing Australia's ISPs, does not support extending the universal service obligation beyond basic voice services. Its reasoning is that expanding the USO will increase the cost and levies upon telcos and will "distort competition". It instead suggests targeted programs to increase the rollout of broadband to rural areas that are currently underserved or disadvantaged.