Optus wants NBN Co to take universal service from Telstra

Optus has argued that Telstra should relinquish its universal service obligations and the associated funding it receives to NBN Co.

NBN Co, as the wholesale fixed-line operator in Australia, should have responsibility for providing voice services across Australia instead of Telstra, according to Optus.

The government has been pushing to fold the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) into the Department of Communications as part of a bid to save money.

TUSMA is tasked with ensuring that Australians have access to voice services, and, with the National Broadband Network (NBN) migration, to ensure that customers are informed and able to migrate their voice service from the legacy copper network to the NBN.

In February, the Senate voted to launch a new inquiry into the impact of the revised NBN Co deal with Telstra on universal service obligations.

The TUSMA agreement between Telstra and the government requires Telstra to provide standard telephone services, pay phones, and emergency services. Telstra is required to provide a voice service to customers who opt not to take an NBN connection under the agreement, and Telstra is compensated for it.

Telstra has argued that the new deal to allow NBN Co to access Telstra's copper assets for the multi-technology mix model of the NBN has little impact on universal service obligations, but Optus, in its submission to the inquiry, said that the government should use it as an opportunity to overhaul the entire universal service system.

Optus argued that the TUSMA agreement potentially gives Telstra up to AU$6.6 billion to maintain its legacy copper network, funded by the government and a levy on other telcos, when NBN Co could provide the service instead.

"Both NBN Co's fibre and fixed-wireless technologies have been designed to provide voice capability. In respect of NBN Co's fibre services, voice services can be provided through a VoIP solution or through an analogue adaptor. Similarly, voice services can be provided over NBN Co's fixed-wireless platform using VoIP technology," Optus stated.

For those in satellite areas, Optus noted that retailers are already providing a VoIP phone service to offer voice services.

"NBN infrastructure should be the primary mechanism for ensuring customer connectivity. This should apply to each of the NBN platforms: Fibre, fixed wireless, and satellite," Optus said.

In areas where NBN Co networks are not suitable, the legacy copper networks or a mobile network could be used instead.

Optus stated that NBN Co could take ownership of the copper outside of its own network footprint, too.

"NBN Co could take ownership of the Telstra copper outside the fibre footprint. This will ensure that copper is available to help meet the USO [universal service obligation]. More importantly, NBN Co will likely have stronger incentives than Telstra to ensure that the USO can be delivered through more cost-effective alternate technology, enabling it to decommission the copper more quickly and reduce its costs to serve," Optus stated.

The committee is due to report back on May 1, 2015.