The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has proposed an expanded scope for the Universal Service Obligation (USO) to ensure greater inclusion for people with disabilities.
Currently, the USO only guarantees supply of a standard telephone voice service and the consumer watchdog said this must be broadened to guarantee data services, essential content from education and government services and include service guarantees for fault repairs.
“Communications services are essential for consumers to get access to government services, education and more,” said ACCAN chief executive, Teresa Corbin.
“In today’s digital age we need a USO with a broader scope and one that takes into account the breadth of services we are using, including data services and content.
“We also need a USO that is going to guarantee that we have timeframes around getting connected to voice and data services and that these services are reliable.”
The ACCAN has also identified flaws in current low income support arrangements and proposes that these be reviewed to overcome affordability barriers to communications.
Previous ACCAN and SACOSS research revealed that many low income consumers are struggling to pay their telecommunications costs with 62 per cent of respondents either experiencing difficulty paying, having to cut back or stop using one or more telecommunications services for financial reasons in the last 12 months.
“Our research shows that low-income consumers do struggle to get and stay connected to telecommunications services. Affordability issues could be addressed through a revised Centrelink Telephone Allowance or through the expansion of carrier licence conditions so that all retail service providers are required to offer low-income support and services,” Corbin added.
“Another alternative could see nbn provide eligible end users with a coupon or voucher for discounted services to be redeemed from their choice of service provider.”
As part of ACCAN’s submission, two recommendations were outlined to allow greater accessibility for disabled people.
The watchdog suggested a Disability Telecommunication Service be established to provide communications information, equipment provision, training and support. The second recommendation is that the National Relay Service (NRS) should be expanded to include services for Deafblind and multi lingual consumers, with all services offered 24 hours per day.
“A disability equipment program that is flexible and reflects the current communications technologies and consumer trends is needed under the USO,” added Corbin.
“People with disability have diverse communications needs and therefore an updated USO must move away from a one-size-fits-all equipment program.”