Telstra is taking its payphone advertising dispute to the Federal Court

By Chris Pash | 13 May 2019

Telstra, under fire in both Sydney and Melbourne over its plans to expand payphone advertising spaces, is taking the issue to the Federal Court.

The telco has more than 15,500 public payphones across Australia, but councils in Sydney and Melbourne have challenged outdoor giant JCDecaux's plans for an upgrade to the payphone network, including more advertising panels alongside the booths.

The City of Melbourne recently started proceedings in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal challenging Telstra's right to upgrade payphones.

The City of Sydney says it will dispute under the Telecommunication Act 1997 the assertion that Telstra and JCDecaux are entitled to make changes.

The councils believe the equipment being installed is not designed solely for use as a content and carriage service as required.

Carmel Mulhern, Telstra's General Counsel Legal & Corporate Affairs, says the issue needs to be settled nationally, rather than on a state be state basis.

"Because we operate a national payphone network, we think the best path is to ask the Federal Court to decide whether our new payphones are a low impact facility, so we have one judgment that applies across Australia," she says.

"This will avoid the time and cost of court action in other states, and should mean a quicker, consistent outcome."

Telstra says new payphones will play a critical role in cities as they become smarter and more reliant on telecommunications infrastructure.

"Over time, our new payphones will provide a number of additional services, designed to support Australia’s public communication needs for the next 20-30 years," Mulhern says.

"They could contain a range of features including digital screens, Wi-Fi, 5G enabled technology, mobile device charging, as well as providing a space for communicating everything from emergency alerts to a range of content services such as public transport information to city maps, weather, tourist advice, information on nearby cultural attractions and the ability to promote the work of charitable organisations.

"In designing our new payphones, we’ve consulted with a range of stakeholders, including urban designers, academics, local councils, road safety authorities and the police, to ensure that they are safe, do not clutter streets and continue to serve local communities.

"Notwithstanding the decision to take this action, we will continue to engage and work with all stakeholders, including local governments and other associations on this project." 

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