Connecting the telephone
This page covers issues concerning the connection of telephone services in Australia.
The supply of telephone services generally
The best strategy for looking after the long-term interests of consumers and improving telecommunications services over time is to encourage effective competition within the telecommunications sector.
The liberalisation of telecommunications in 1997 opened up the telecommunications industry to wider competition and more choice in the supply of telephone services. There are now hundreds of telecommunications service providers offering a wide range of services including basic telephone services, mobile services, internet access and pay TV. The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will further encourage competition across the telecommunications industry in Australia, as Telstra progressively decommissions its copper network in most areas of the country. This will result in a wholesale-only level playing field for all retail providers and the industry will move to a new, more competitive structure that will benefit consumers.
On 21 March 2012, parliament passed universal service reform legislation designed to ensure the ongoing delivery of key telecommunication consumer safeguards during and after the rollout of the NBN. This follows a series of agreements reached between the Australian Government and Telstra in June 2011 for the ongoing delivery of the universal service obligation (USO) for voice and payphone services and other public interest services as the telecommunications industry transitions to the NBN environment.
For more information on these matters:
For information on recent telecommunication regulatory reforms:
- Telecommunications regulatory reform—consumer safeguards
- Telecommunications regulatory reform—separation framework
Universal Service Obligation
The Universal Service Obligation (USO) ensures that all people in Australia have reasonable access to a standard telephone service on request, and that payphones are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia on an equitable basis, wherever they live or carry on business. A standard telephone service is a voice telephone service fit for the purpose of voice telephony, and includes any communication services equivalent to voice telephony that are provided to people with disabilities to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. This applies to communication services to people who are deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment.
Telstra, as the current primary universal service provider, must meet the requirements of the USO, subject to a limited number of exemptions as set out in the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (Standard Telephone Service - Requirements and Circumstances) Determination (No.1) 2011.
Service supply is subject to normal commercial charges and to government price caps where these apply. Service providers other than Telstra make a commercial decision as to where they offer services and may not service all areas.
How is the USO fulfilled by Telstra?
Details of how Telstra fulfils its USO are set out in its Universal Service Obligation Policy Statement and Universal Service Obligation Standard Marketing Plan. (See both documents on the Telstra Universal Service Obligation page.) These documents cover matters such as Telstra's general approach to fulfilling the USO, as well as service availability, service description, service quality, connection and fault repair time frames, interim services, priority services and complaint processes.
There is no regulatory requirement on Telstra to provide USO services using particular types of technologies. This is a matter for Telstra, which can provide USO services using copper cables, radio links (satellite and terrestrial), mobile phones and broadband. From 1 July 2012, however, Telstra will have a contractual obligation with TUSMA to ensure standard telephone services are reasonably accessible to all Australians on an equitable basis. Telstra will receive funding to operate and maintain its existing copper network in areas outside of NBN Co's fibre footprint and to provide voice services. Within NBN Co Limited's fibre footprint, Telstra will be required to act as the retailer of last resort to provide the standard telephone service on request over the NBN fibre network.
Price of USO services
The price of USO services is subject to the general price controls that apply to Telstra. Within the limits of the Telstra price controls, prices are set by Telstra for a number of services including line rental rates and untimed local call rates for fixed-line services and public payphones. The price control arrangements are set out in a legislative instrument available on the ComLaw website (see link below). The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) oversees Telstra's compliance with price control arrangements, including the preparation of an annual report which, along with additional information, is available on the ACCCs website. This department provides information on Telstra retail price controls while the cost of connecting a standard telephone service is set out in Telstra's customer terms.
The Australian Government is conducting a review of retail price control arrangements for fixed-line telecommunications services. The current arrangements are due to expire on 30 June 2012. Find more information about the review and Telstra retail price controls on this website.
- ComLaw: Telstra Carrier Charges - Price Control Arrangements, Notification and Disallowance Determination No. 1 of 2005
- ACCC: 2010 Review of Telstra's price control arrangements
Service, equipment and features of fixed telephone services
A fixed service is a voice telephony service that is not a mobile service. The Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 refers to a voice telephone service as a standard telephone service, which is defined as a communication service for the purpose of voice telephony that meets the any-to-any connectivity test. Fixed, mobile and some voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services are standard telephone services.
Several government organisations are involved in the regulation of fixed telephone services. The industry technical regulator is the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the competition regulator is the ACCC. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is an industry scheme that provides a dispute resolution service for residential and small business customers in dispute with their communications provider.
The telephone service, features and equipment provided by service providers are generally a commercial matter for agreement between the provider and the customer. However, there are particular requirements of a standard telephone service that apply to all providers, some requirements that apply only to Telstra and some other requirements that apply only to services supplied in fulfilment of the USO. The following lists identify the specific requirements in each case.
Features required for a standard telephone service (applies to all providers)
- Must provide option of untimed local calls (mobile telephone services are exempt from this requirement).
- Customer Service Guarantee, or CSG (unless waived by the customer; mobile services excluded).
- Access to emergency call services.
- Operator-assisted services (including for dealing with faults and service difficulties).
- Directory assistance.
- Itemised billing.
- Regulation of telephone sex services.
- Pre-selection (excluding mobile services) and subject to contractual agreement between customer and provider.
- Calling line identification.
- Number portability (applies to all carriage services including standard telephone services).
- Access to the National Relay Service.
- Membership of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Scheme.
Features that apply to all standard telephone services provided by Telstra not necessarily in fulfilment of the Universal Service Obligation
- Retail price regulation (does not distinguish USO services from others).
- Priority assistance arrangements for people with life threatening illnesses (applies only to a standard telephone service supplied to a residence).
- Network Reliability Framework (CSG retail services supplied by Telstra).
- Differential charging for standard telephone service with and without handsets.
Features specific to a standard telephone service supplied in fulfilment of the USO
- Must offer customer equipment (including a handset and/or equivalent equipment for people with a disability).
- Must provide option of untimed local calls (including for mobile telephone services).
- Customer Service Guarantee including service connection and repair, and meeting time frames (including for mobile services).
Industry codes of practice
Industry codes of practice also underpin service provision and quality. Industry codes relating to fair customer contracts, advertising, point-of-sale information, billing, credit management, customer transfer and complaints handling are developed by the telecommunications industry and registered with the ACMA. Once registered, industry codes are enforceable by the ACMA. More information is on the industry codes page on the ACMA website.
Regulatory arrangements do not require telephone companies to use any particular technology. They can determine the technology used to provide their services, taking into account such matters as consumer preferences, geography, population density and cost.
Enhanced calling features
Enhanced calling features include call waiting, call forwarding, call barring and control, calling number display (CND) and CND blocking. The offer of these features is a commercial decision for telephone companies and their customers. Sometimes a phone company may not offer such services because of technical limitations of the facilities it uses.
Customer Service Guarantee (CSG)
The Customer Service Guarantee (CSG) provides that telephone companies must pay financial compensation to customers where certain minimum performance standards are not met. The CSG is intended to provide an incentive for telephone companies to improve their service performance and to provide some redress to customers.
Minimum standards under the CSG include the time frames for connecting new services, rectifying faults and keeping appointments. If a phone company fails to meet a CSG standard, the company provider must pay the affected customer specified financial damages. Typically, this is paid in the form of a credit on the customer's bill.
CSG time frames
Connection times under the CSG vary from two to 20 working days (except in circumstances beyond the control of the phone company). This time frame depends on the existence of a previous connection, the population of the area and the proximity and capacity available on infrastructure (such as local telephone exchanges, main cables and radio distribution systems).
Repair times under the CSG should not exceed three working days, except in circumstances beyond the control of the phone company.
Under the CSG, the phone company must commit to an appointment period for the connection or repair of a phone service of no longer than five hours. Additionally, where a phone company makes an appointment with a customer, the phone company must keep this appointment unless it gives the customer reasonable notice.
There are circumstances when the CSG does not apply—such as when severe weather or a natural disaster prevents the telephone company meeting the CSG standards. In addition, customers can agree to waive the CSG—for example, if a telephone company offers another, cheaper product or one that otherwise meets customers' needs.
The CSG does not limit other avenues of consumer redress for poor service performance, such as consumer affairs and fair trading offices in state/local governments.
See further information on the CSG and time frames page on the ACMA website.
Where an extensive delay is expected in connecting a telephone service, it is common for a telephone company to offer an interim service to its customers.
An interim service is a voice telephone service, though it may not have the same functionality and features as a permanent service.
Additionally, as the universal service provider, Telstra must offer an interim or alternate service to its customers in some circumstances. For example, when you request connection of your standard telephone service and Telstra cannot connect your service within 30 working days, Telstra must offer you an interim (or alternative) service.
Interim services may also be provided where a service is under repair for an extended period, or on a repeated basis. See the reliability and fault repair page on this website for details.
To get a standard phone service connected customers should contact a phone company that offers services in their area. Different providers offer different service and pricing packages. Additional information is available on the ACMA web page on choosing a telephone company.
Telstra is required to offer a package of priority assistance services as a condition of its telecommunications carrier licence. Telstra's Priority Assistance service is available where a residential customer (or a member of the household) has a diagnosed life-threatening medical condition and therefore depend on a reliable telephone service to call for assistance. Other carriage service providers/carriers may also provide priority assistance services to their customers.
There are consistent, industry-wide arrangements that apply to providers that choose to offer priority assistance to residential customers with life-threatening medical conditions, which are set out in the Communications Alliance code (ACIF C609:2007 Priority Assistance for life-threatening medical conditions). The Priority Assistance Code is available from the Communications Alliance Ltd website.
Priority Assistance arrangements require the highest practicable level of telephone service. Upon request, eligible customers are entitled to receive faster connection and repair of their phone service and a greater level of service reliability. Such services are more strictly monitored and connections and repairs should occur within a 24 hour time frame (in urban or rural areas) or a 48-hour time frame (in remote areas).
To ensure that all customers benefit from information about available priority assistance services, telephone companies are required to either offer priority assistance services or to inform customers where they can purchase these services.
Find more information on the Priority Assistance for consumers page on this website.
If a customer believes a telephone company has not fulfilled its contractual obligation, or has failed to comply with its regulatory obligations under the USO and/or CSG, the customer should, in the first instance, seek to resolve the matter with the company. If the customer is not satisfied with the response, most companies have arrangements for escalating complaints internally.
If, after having tried to resolve a complaint with the telephone company, the customer remains dissatisfied, the matter can be referred to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). The TIO is a non-government scheme that provides free, independent and informal resolution of disputes between telephone companies and residential and small business customers. The TIOs decisions are binding, and all carriers and eligible carriage service providers (including internet service providers) are required to participate in the scheme. Contact the TIO by telephone on a free call to 1800 062 058, free fax to 1800 630 614 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having the TIO investigate a complaint does not prevent a customer from seeking to resolve the matter through other avenues such as state and territory fair trading agencies, small claims tribunals, or the courts.
Additionally, the ACMA has a broad range of powers to enforce telecommunications industry compliance with regulations. The ACMA can investigate breaches of the USO, enforce regulatory requirements and issue remedial directions. Failure to comply with those directions could lead to penalties of up to $10 million. Contact the ACMA on 03 9963 6800 or TTY on a free call to 1800 808 101.