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Thursday, 26 July 1906

Mr LONSDALE (New England) . - I wish to know 'from the PostmasterGeneral whether it would not be advisable for the Department to carry out experiments in connexion with automatic telephone systems, which seem to be successful in other parts of the world, judging by the reports which have been put before us. These systems appear to be cheaper than other systems, and might very well be experimented with in connexion with some country town exchange. I believe that the honorable gentleman stated last session that a company controlling an automatic system was prepared to make an experiment at its own cost, though I do not know what would be charged if we adopted such a system. That, of course, would be a matter for consideration later on. We should, however, try to obtain the best system available. Telephone connexion is of the highest importance to people in country districts, because thev are anxious to obtain information as quickly as possible, and to be put in easy communication with the outside world. The Department seems to throw every obstacle in the way of establishing these services. I referred upon the last occasion to a case in which the Department had actually refused a cash gift of £,100 that was offered to induce them to establish a line in respect to which they required a guarantee of ^22 per annum. Although the amount of £100 would have been equivalent to a five years' guarantee they declined to accept it.

Mr Austin Chapman - What became of that 'case ?

Mr LONSDALE - The service has since been established, but I had to resort to certain steps which should not have been necessary. I do not see how the introduction of the toll system would help the people in the country to obtain new services, because at present they are called upon to pay according to the extent to which they use the service. They have to pay for each separate message. I think that in connexion with the telephone service a business balance-sheet should be made out, so that we might arrive at a clear understanding as to the actual cost of erection and maintenance. I am quite satisfied that the amount which persons in the country are asked to pay by way of guarantee in connexion with the establishment of trunk lines is in man\ cases exorbitant, and that the whole system requires to be improved. The principal trouble arises at present over the excessive initial cost, and I trust that the Minister will make the fullest inquiry into the matter, with a view to introducing desirable reforms. The charge for maintenance at the rate of 25s. per mile is also excessive. If a dozen wires are carried by the one set of poles, the Department charge 25s. per annum for each mile of wire, or £15 per mile of line, and it seems to me that that is monstrous. If the Minister will give his serious attention to the requirements of the people living in the country district's, he will be remembered with feelings of gratitude long after he has left office.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Hume Cook) adjourned.

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