Greens demand USO changes before Telstra split

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Greens demand USO changes before Telstra split

The Greens are working on new amendments to Federal Government legislation aimed at forcing the separation of Telstra, which the minor party expects to put to the Government before the end of this week.

It is the second round of amendments the party has put before the Government on the same bill.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam told iTnews that the Greens' support for the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) bill is "still up in the air".

Ludlam said the new amendments call for guarantees of a stronger Universal Service Obligation (USO) for regional users and some proposed measures concerning the installation, removal and repair of payphones.

Ludlam told iTnews that the USO will be of "much greater consequence" to the nation should Telstra be threatened with separation.

He called for "more expansive" detail around USO guarantees within the text of the bill, "with some latitude to fill in some of the regulatory details later."

"We need a better defined policy as to how we use the USO for people in the bush," he said. "The USO as it stands refers to copper cables and fixed landlines at a reasonable cost. But it is ambiguous about things like VoIP [Voice over IP]."

Some of these grey areas are discussed in the explanatory notes to the bill.

VoIP services, the notes said, "generally provide substantially cheaper voice telephony than the standard voice telephony service provided by Telstra under the USO" once broadband charges are removed.

"It is possible that competitors could provide non-copper based services to some USO customers at a cheaper price than Telstra's copper fixed line services," the notes read.

The explanatory notes discussed the possibility of forcing service providers to inform users, possibly in writing, whenever a non-copper telephony service they are acquiring is being provided in order to fulfil USO requirements.

Ludlam wants some of these issues spelt out within the bill itself to ensure they are enshrined in law.

"They should be in the bill, not as a set of options to be thought about later," he said.

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