Australia Backs Away From “ISDN for All”

The Australian government will not demand 64kbps ISDN services to be made available to every house and business in Australia, ignoring concerns about the congestion of the Internet in Australia and high cost of ISDN connections.

A report released this week by the Australian Communications Authority
(ACA) recommended that Telstra, the government-owned incumbent national telecommunications carrier, not be compelled to upgrade its OnRamp network to make ISDN services part of its Universal Service Obligation (USO).

The USO currently mandates that Telstra has to provide telephony services to every Australian, and the ACA’s “Digital Data Review” had been called to investigate whether it should be extended to data communication.

The let-off for Telstra comes in a hostile environment, where the telecommunications market has been opened up to competition for a year, it is in the middle of being privatised, and it is facing regulatory action in several telecoms markets for anti-competitive conduct.

The main finding of the report was that ISDN or comparable services would be widely accessible by the end of 1998 “through Telstra meeting its licence condition and its proposed satellite based delivery system”. The report also recommended that government intervention in Telstra’s ability to provide 14.4kbps, 28.8kbps or 64 kbps digital data service was “not economically necessary or justifiable”.

Telstra had argued against making ISDN part of the USO on the grounds that it would take many billions of dollars to extend the OnRamp network to every regional and remote area, compared to the several hundred million dollars invested in it so far.

In addressing this issue, the ACA said “The costs of mandating an ISDN service providing a 64 kbps digital data channel as part of the Universal Service Obligation would outweigh the benefits.”

However, the government will consult with industry before finalising its response to the report in upcoming weeks.

The report will shortly be made available on the ACA Web site.

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