[LINK] Free Payphones

Stephen Loosley StephenLoosley at outlook.com
Tue Aug 3 14:00:25 AEST 2021

Telstra makes Australia’s 15,000 public payphones free to use under major overhaul

Telstra has unveiled a new way for Australians to make free payphone calls to mobiles and landlines

By Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson National technology editor August 3, 2021 https://www.couriermail.com.au/technology/telstra-makes-australias-15000-public-payphones-free-to-use-under-major-overhaul/news-story/0cc4cd96e772a8b6c06dbdae383a4f90

Exclusive: Calling for help or just phoning a friend from one of Australia’s 15,076 public payphones will be free from Tuesday in a bold move by Telstra expected to cost more than $5 million in lost revenue.

Both local and national phone calls with be fee-free as part of the telco’s payphone overhaul, as well as calls to Australian mobile phone numbers, with no restrictions other than a six-hour limit on phone calls.

Consumers will still have to pay to call overseas, however.

The Salvation Army called the move a “game-changer” that could help lift vulnerable Australians out of “social isolation,” while the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network also welcomed the move as a vital lifeline from cities to regional areas.

Telstra chief executive Andy Penn, who will announce the change at an event on Tuesday morning, said more than 11 million phone calls were made using public telephones in Australia last year despite their reputation as historical artefacts.

“It’s interesting because now people look at payphones and just assume that they are a thing of the past and nobody uses them anymore,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Mr Penn said 230,000 payphone calls last year connected callers to critical services, such as Lifeline and triple-0, and the public phones provided crucial assistance to victims of crime.

“There’s a number of situations where I’ve seen first-hand how they have made a difference in difficult circumstances,” he said.

“With victims of domestic violence often what will happen is a perpetrator will confiscate or steal the only communication device that their victim may have. And so often a payphone can be the only way in which a victim can contact the outside world and get help.”

Salvation Army Major Brendan Nottle, who serves as the charity’s commanding officer in Melbourne, said making payphone calls free was a “game-changer” that would not only encourage more people to contact services for help but could help break the cycle of loneliness.

“It encourages people to reconnect and we think that’s critical,” Major Nottle said.

“With a lot of people who we see, often the underlying problem is social isolation. It’s an invisible epidemic and it’s one of those issues that affects so many people. To be able, at no cost, to ring a family member or friend is invaluable.”

ACCAN chief executive Teresa Corbin said, while often undervalued, Australia’s payphone network remained useful for students, homeless people and in emergencies in urban areas, and was arguably more important in regional and remote communities where “not everyone has a device”.

“They can be very important in Indigenous communities,” she said.

“Often it’s the only fixed line connection in the community, and a lot of those payphones run on solar panels.”

Telstra has previously removed fees on payphones during emergency situations, including the 2019 bushfires which saw 3.5 million phone calls placed, and in remote Indigenous communities after the outbreak of Covid-19.

While last year’s tally of 11 million phone calls, at 50c each, would have brought in $5.5 million, Mr Penn declined to disclose how much free public calls would cost Telstra, other than to say it wasn’t “an enormous amount” to bring new life to an “iconic” asset.

“I’d like people to use them,” he said. “I’d like to see the usage increase and I’d like to see a lot of social media on it. I wonder if payphones can be cool again.”

Ethan Carey, 11, from Melbourne, used a payphone for the first time yesterday, and said he was excited to learn you could send text messages from the machine but confused that you had to press number buttons to do it

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