Payphones are now free phones

Telstra announced earlier this month that charges no longer apply to local or national calls to a fixed line or Australian mobile number from payphones.  This means that anyone can now use one of the 15,000 payphones still remaining across Australia for free.

Telstra phone booth

Telstra CEO, Andrew Penn, said that a lot of Australians might not give payphones much thought.  Until there’s a natural disaster.  Or until they are in vulnerable circumstances, homeless or fleeing domestic violence.  SSMA pointed out in 2017, in our response to the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation Inquiry, the folly of relying on wireless infrastructure for voice communications.  This is echoed by Mr Penn, who states, “I’ve seen queues of people waiting in line, coins at the ready, to use a payphone to call home and tell their family and friends they’re safe after a bushfire, a cyclone or some other natural disaster has taken the mobile network down”.

Removing charges at payphones also provides a lifeline to vulnerable Australians.  Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle is quoted as saying that making payphones free is a “game changer” for people who can’t afford a mobile phone, or have had to leave dangerous domestic situations.

Payphones are provided by Telstra as part of its contract under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).  The USO legislation is aimed at providing all Australians with reasonable access to payphones and standard telephone services on an equitable basis. Telstra is paid $40 million per annum for maintaining the payphone network and $230 million per annum to maintain its copper network outside of the NBN fixed line footprint.

The USO runs through until 2032 but, in 2016, was made subject to a 12-month inquiry to reassess its value.  The Productivity Commission was tasked with examining the relevance of the USO, given the rollout of the National Broadband Network and the public’s uptake of competing technology.  Not surprisingly, other telecommunications companies, who are obliged to help fund the scheme, were keen to see its demise. 

The Productivity Commission’s final report echoed these sentiments, describing basic telephone and payphone services as “anachronistic and costly” and in need of being wound up by 2020.  Thankfully, this blinkered verdict from the Productivity Commission was not accepted by the government’s 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review committee, which noted that, “For many living in rural, and particularly remote Australia, Telstra’s fixed voice service is the only connection to the outside world if their internet service is not working”.  Unlike the Productivity Commission, this committee was prepared to take on board concerns raised by people and therefore recommended a measured and cautious approach to any changes to the USO arrangements.  In consequence, the government backtracked on its intention to scrap existing USO provisions by 2020.

SSMA applauds Telstra on its initiative to make payphones free.  Dropping payphone charges also looks like a win-win for Telstra, which will now be freed from the costs associated with coin collection. 

The importance of wired connections is finally being recognised; however, it is unfortunate that some of Telstra’s payphones host WiFi connectivity, which may render such phones unsuitable for use by people with EHS.  

It remains to be seen whether the recent death spiral that payphones have found themselves in will be reversed, now that payphones are free phones.  Given the inherent vulnerability of wireless communications, along with its contribution to electrosmog and carbon emissions, SSMA hopes that the introduction of free public phones will spur a revival in their usage!

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7 Responses to Payphones are now free phones

  1. SMS says:

    Does anyone know if these payphones ( the ones that don’t have Telstra Air) are connected via the copper network or through NBN technology?
    I had my landline cut off in February this year due to transitioning to NBN .As I have been unable to tolerate the NBN technology I have not had any phone since then. I am extremely sensitive to all wireless devices so do not know what to do. Six lockdowns and seven months with no phone to speak to a friend or family member is simply cruel!

    • Cathy says:

      Telstra is paid to maintain payphones, not NBN. So Telstra would have to use its own network. This has traditionally been copper although I’ve heard satellite is used in very remote communities. Telstra’s CEO was crowing about how payphones work when the mobile network is down. Telstra has put some fancy new phones in some places. I wonder if these new digital payphones will suffer the same fate or do they use more robust technology?

  2. old kodger says:

    Come on folks Telstra’s not that philanthropic, there’s a con in that somewhere. Somewhere there’s a benefit to Telstra, and since they are in the government’s pocket, so you can bet your last dollar, without any risk of losing it, that it will be to our disadvantage, BEWARE!

  3. anon says:

    Unfortunately all the payphones in my area have ‘telstra air’ which I believe is some sort of wireless. Also, the only reason they are making payphones free is because they want to eliminate cash. In a cashless society all your transactions will be linked to your identity so you can be locked out if you are a naughty truthspeaker.

    • Cathy says:

      Too bad for you only having Telstra Air phones nearby. I wonder how many of Telstra’s ‘pay’ phones have this?? Luckily, it’s the normal phones that are near us. The post gives a link for the Telstra Air blurb. This says that the wifi at the Telstra Air phones is for Telstra customers. It doesn’t sound like many of the phones have it because the blurb says that it’s available at over 1 million hotspots, which includes the public phones (and there are 15 million public phones) but also covers home hotspots (silly people) and business gateways.

  4. Chris Hooper says:

    Thanks. Free pay phones great…I just bought a $5 call card a couple months ago as I no longer have a car …so I could call the occasional taxi without using cash….so this is great…don’t have to worry about either and have always thought they’re a safety thing…wish they just went around cleaning and repairing them a bit more 🙂 Chris

    On Wed, Aug 11, 2021 at 11:21 AM Stop Smart Meters Australia wrote:

    > Stop Smart Meters Australia posted: ” Telstra announced earlier this month > that charges no longer apply to local or national calls to a fixed line or > Australian mobile number from payphones. This means that anyone can now > use one of the 15,000 payphones still remaining across Australia” >

  5. kirrilie says:

    This is great news. It seems payphone locations can be found here or google “TELSTRA PAYPHONE REGISTER AND LOCATOR TOOL”

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