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For decades, Australians living in rural and regional parts of the country have had access to a landline telephone connection regardless of where they live.

But the universal service obligation, delivered by Telstra, has lagged behind technological advances and the infrastructure is ageing.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland will use a speech to the National Farmers Federation on Friday to announce a plan to “modernise the USO in a manner that benefits regional and remote consumers and their long-term interests”.

She will announce the start of a consultation process to investigate whether there are better ways to ensure all Australians are connected.

“Work needs to progress now, because the USO is not fit for purpose. It needs to catch up with technological and market developments that have and are taking place,” she will say.

“As far back as 2015, I have been calling for the USO to be modernised to respond to the significant changes realised by the roll out of the NBN and new technologies.

“Neither the government, nor, more importantly, the consumer, are getting bang for buck from the current arrangements as the services that underpin the USO – universal voice services for all Australians, could be met through a variety of ways that allows more Australians to benefit from improved telecommunications services.”

As it stands, Telstra has contractual and legislative obligations to provide standard telephone services on request to every premises in Australia within a reasonable time frame.

But the cost of maintaining the approximately 300,000 connections on the ageing copper network is growing as the system “struggles to keep up with the most basic performance of more modern technology, like fibre or fixed wire.

Ms Rowland will use her speech to stress to Australians outside of the cities that their ability to be connected remains the priority, but a consultation period will hear from people, industry and service providers about how the USO can be better delivered into the future.

“Our government makes this commitment: we will not make changes to USO arrangements unless there are tested and proven alternatives to existing technologies.,” she will say.

“Ultimately, any new approach must ensure robust and reliable services for all.”

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By Rahul

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