Thursday, 25th February, 2010
Telstra has defended its decision to remove six more payphones from around the city, saying the phones were no longer economically viable.
But City Council's general manager Frank Zaknich criticised Telstra over its "relentless" campaign to reduce payphone services, which he said was hurting the city's most disadvantaged residents. A spokesman for the telco yesterday said the removal of the payphones followed an internal review which found the cost of maintaining them outweighed the income they generated.
Overall use of the phones had "dropped significantly" since the last review two years ago, according to Darren Smith, Telstra's area general manager, who pointed to the increased uptake of mobile phones as the most obvious cause. The cost of keeping the payphones, which were "constantly vandalised", in operation was high and their existence became economically unviable, he said.
The removed phones were in Argent, Buck, Thomas, Jamieson, Bromide and Crystal Streets. One of the phones was outside a school and another was in front of the Crystal Street railway station. Mr Smith said there was still 16 payphones in operation which was "probably three times the number" required by Telstra to comply with its universal service obligation.
However, a search on Telstra's online payphone locater listed only 10 payphones. In his efforts to try and get the decision reversed, Mr Zaknich has pointed to the city's large number of elderly residents and low income households, and the growing indigenous population. But Mr Smith said the company took those issues into account as part of its review. "We do take that into consideration ... but at the end of the day there's a fairly over-abundance of phones."
He said users were even given an opportunity to object to the phones' removal. Stickers, which included a contact number, were placed in each payphone stating that it was under review but Mr Smith said they generated "no significant response". But Mr Zaknich,said that didn't mean the payphones were no longer needed ."People were still using them," he said."To say they weren't being used is incorrect."
He said the decision by Telstra, and lack of support from federal authorities, was disappointing. "The campaign to remove these phones is fairly relentless."
After the review was announced last year Mr Zaknich wrote to the federal communications authority and the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy. But he received a less than satisfactory response from an adviser to the minister, Carl Toohey, who said that if Council wanted additional payphones it might like to consider providing them itself. "Talk about cost-shifting," Mr Zaknich said. "We might as well start our own communications network as well."