From the horse’s mouth
Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation (Inquiry Page)
An issue that I have previously covered is the universal service obligation being extended to broadband Internet service. The universal service obligation is a minimum standard for providing telecommunications services across a country or other jurisdiction with it being funded through different paths like government funding and/or a levy on telecommunications services that are being provided with this funding subsidising financially-difficult service-provisioning scenarios such as rural areas. In some cases, it also includes having the jurisdiction’s welfare system cover the provision of these services to eligible disadvantaged people through a special benefit or subsidised services.
Some jurisdictions have started taking action towards this goal such as through establishing a minimum bandwidth for Internet services. Now Australia’s Productivity Commission are investigating the possibility of extending the Australian Universal Service Obligation beyond landline voice telephony to broadband Internet service of a minimum standard. This is due to a reality that most of the business that people engage in, especially the essential tasks like applying for jobs or government services, is being performed via Internet-based technologies rather than by voice phone calls.
The Productivity Commission’s goal is to make sure that a reasonable-standard broadband Internet service is accessible to all Australians. This includes assurance of access by people living in rural, regional or remote areas where it would normally be costly to provide proper broadband service; along with assuring access to these services by disabled people or those who have financial hardship.
They want to have a technology-neutral approach but with a minimum upload and download bandwidth. This also includes a minimum benchmark for assured reliability and data throughput. Like the original Universal Service Obligation, this extension to encompass broadband Internet service will be publicly funded in various ways.
A good question that can be raised is whether the Universal Service Obligation will cover fixed telephony and Internet services only or will be extended to mobile setups which can be considered by some as a “discretionary service”.
Personally, I would recommend that there is investigation regarding how other countries have approached Internet service as part of the Universal Service Obligation, including the kind of benefits that have been provided to disabled or disadvantaged users for this service by the nation’s welfare platform. As well, investigating the role of competition including at the infrastructure level in providing decent broadband Internet that is affordable and accessible for all.