Shanoha Meyer uses a phone in Victoria Street, Grafton, to keep in touch with friends, family and TAFE courses.
Shanoha Meyer uses a phone in Victoria Street, Grafton, to keep in touch with friends, family and TAFE courses.

Calling Telstra: keep our phones

By Emma Cornford

Yesterday afternoon, Grafton resident Shanoha Meyer stood at a payphone in Victoria Street, calling TAFE to keep up to date with her course.

She and her boyfriend Shannon Sargeant often use Telstra payphones to keep in touch with friends, family and their TAFE courses.

"I use them a lot," said Shanoha, who was concerned about Telstra plans to cut up to 5000 payphones across the country in the next five years.

"I think it's a bad idea because if they get rid of them, how are you going to make emergency calls? What if you've run out of credit (on your mobile)?".

Although Shannon and Shanoha have both had mobiles in the past, they have both been stolen ? leaving the pair with little choice but to use public phones to keep in touch.

"You've got to stay in touch with mum and dad and your friends and ... when you don't have a mobile, (public) phones are the only way you can do that when you're out," Shannon said.

Currently there are 18 payphones under review on the far north coast. Telstra Countrywide far north coast regional manager Sue Passmore said the company had a universal service obligation (USO) to keep 7500 phones Australia-wide.

"There are some phones under review, but it's not a matter of us telling the community we're getting rid of them," Ms Passmore said.

"The phones under review have stickers on them and if people see those stickers on a phone they use, they can get in contact with us and let us know why the phone should remain."

She said public phones across the country were constantly under review, particularly those that were often vandalised or had a low usage rate.

But Shannon and Shanoha thought the company could come up with a better plan than simply removing phones.

"Why can't they put a camera in phones that get vandalised? That could stop it and they wouldn't have to get rid of them then," said Shannon.

Communications Minister Helen Coonan met with Telstra yesterday after Optus proposed taking over the operation of the 7500 USO phones throughout Australia.

An Optus spokesperson said the proposal to take over the phones was conditional on Telstra publishing a detailed report on the revenue and conditions of its payphones.

She denied the move was to win over consumers in regional areas before the full sale of Telstra.

"No, I wouldn't look at it like that. It's a move to secure services in the bush. It's more just an alternative to shutting down the payphones in those regions," the spokesperson said.

A spokeswoman for Senator Coonan said the minister would consider the issues raised by Optus.

"We would always welcome interest in competition in the bush and more services in the bush," the spokeswoman said.

But she said the plan would involve splitting the USO, which involved not only a commitment to providing payphones but also fixed line services in remote areas.

A Telstra spokesman told AAP the move by Optus was 'cheeky' given that Telstra had already said it would retain all 7500 payphones covered by its USO.

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