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Senate approves better rural phone services, consumer protection and telecommunications competition.

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Media Release

Senator the Hon Richard Alston

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate


22 June 1999





Senate approves better rural phone services, consumer protection and telec ommunications competition


All Australians, including those in rural and remote areas, can look forward to receiving the benefit of better services, lower prices and improved consumer protections as a result of landmark Government telecommunications legisl ation passed by the Senate last night, the Minister for Communications, Senator Richard Alston, said today.

'In addition to the Telstra sale legislation, the Senate also passed Government legislation which will significant improve consumer protection and competition in the telecommunications industry,' Senator Alston said.

'The Government's bills will provide, for the first time ever, a guarantee of access to high speed internet services for regional, rural and remote phone users.

'This initiative will ensure, for the first time, equality of service for all Australians regardless of where they live. It will provide a major boost for regional, rural and remote Australia by offering high speed internet access.

'Enhanced consumer protection measures will authorise the telecommunications regulator to impose fines of up to $10 million on phone companies, including Telstra, which fail to meet acceptable service standards. These consumer protections build on the Government's historic Customer Service Guarantee, which provides financial compensation to consumers for inadequate service.

'Competition in the telecommunications sector has already delivered massive price reductions for consumers, such as reductions in long distance call rates of more than 50%. The Government's legislation will foster even stronger competition, particularly in the local call market.

'All of these improvements will apply regardless of any change to Telstra's ownership structure. The best way to guarantee better services for city and country is through legislated safeguards, rather than through Government ownership of Telstra.'

The measures passed by the Senate include:

  • inclusion in the Universal Service Obligation of a digital data service of at least 64 kilobits per second on demand. This will mean that the 4% of the population who cannot access an ISDN 64 kilobit per second (kbps) land line will have available to them on demand a broadly comparable 64 kbps digital data service using satellite downlink technology, and will receive a su bsidy of 50% of the price of purchasing the necessary satellite receiving equipment.
  • a new provision giving the Australian Communications Authority the power to direct carriage service providers (like Telstra) to take remedial action in relation to system ic service problems or face fines of up to $10 million.
  • greater information disclosure to consumers of the terms and conditions of services, including consumer rights under the Customer Service Guarantee.
  • automatic payment to consumers of compensation pa yable under the Customer Service Guarantee.
  • improvements to the competition notice provisions of the Trade Practices Act, to make it easier for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to respond more quickly and effectively to anti-competitive conduct in the telecommunications industry. This will provide a much faster outcome for smaller telecommunications companies seeking access to Telstra's network, and thus increase competition and services to consumers. Companies which breach competition no tices face fines of up to $10 million and $1 million a day.
  • greater powers for the ACCC to require phone companies to disclose or publish information. This will help smaller companies gain the information they need to negotiate better access to Telstra an d other companies' networks.

'The changes passed the Senate, combined with the existing range of powerful consumer and competition safeguards in telecommunications, will help to deliver lower prices, better service and more choices to residential and busi ness users of this vital industry,' Senator Alston said.

'These initiatives build on the existing system of Universal Service Obligation guarantees of access to a phone, price caps which help preserve the affordability of phone services, and competition measures which help provide better choice, improved service s and lower prices.'



Media contact:

Terry O'Connor, Senator Alston's office (02) 6277 7480 or 0419 636 879 




md 1999-06-23  10:55