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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1441

(Question No. 484)

Senator Macklin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Communications , upon notice, on 8 November 1983:

(1) How does Telecom's Countrywide Calling system operate and what is the reason for its introduction.

(2) Is the Minister for Communications aware of problems that have arisen with the zoning of the Burnett River region and other areas in Queensland and claims by many country people that the system is 'discriminatory and unfair'.

(3) Will local calls in areas affected by this system become 'timed' calls; if so, why.

(4) Will the Minister investigate these claims to ensure that the apparent anomalies are rectified and that many country people will not be disadvantaged by the introduction of Countrywide Calling.

Senator Button —The Minister for Communications has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question, based on advice from the Australian Telecommunications Commission:

(1) Countrywide Calling is a telephone zoning and call charging system which applies to the more sparsely settled areas. The scheme involves extended (or enlarged) charging zones instead of the smaller standard zones generally used throughout Australia. Apart from calls between subscribers located within 32 kilometres of their local automatic exchange (charged at the local fee rate), all calls within extended zones are charged at the community call rate (15 cents per 3 minutes day rate). Calls to adjoining zones are charged at a rate not more than the 'F' rate (60 cents per 3 minutes day rate).

The Countrywide Calling scheme was introduced to help overcome the problems associated with provision of service in sparsely settled areas. The main factors involved in this development are the need-

for Telecom to proceed with its rural and remote area automatic conversion program in a timely manner;

for larger zones (to limit expenditure on zone identification equipment) which in turn will provide customers with access to a reasonable number of people at lower call charges than would have been applicable if the previous zoning principles had been applied;

to keep community access arrangements intact. Apart from local call arrangements, the community call rate will apply to all calls within an extended zone, many of which are 10,000 square kilometres. This is the lowest rate which could reasonably apply throughout such huge areas.

(2) Yes.

(3) Yes. The overall concept of Countrywide Calling requires some standard zones to be absorbed into extended zones. In addition, the generally accepted limit for the economic provision of local call access in Australia is 32 kilometres and this principle has been introduced into automatic exchanges in extended zones. Accordingly, local call access has been affected in some areas and the charging arrangements outlined in 1 above apply.

(4) All claims concerning Countrywide Calling are thoroughly examined and the honourable senator may be aware that Telecom has made a number of modifications to the scheme since its introduction. In the Burnett River region, and indeed in a number of other areas, local call access has been restored to many customers who lost the facility.