Betty O?Neil and Barbara Pearce both use payphones and feel they are a necessity in rural and regional areas.
Betty O?Neil and Barbara Pearce both use payphones and feel they are a necessity in rural and regional areas.

Telstra hangs up on public phones

By MEL MARTIN

TO Betty O'Neil and Barbara Pearce, payphones shouldn't be about making money but a community service, particularly for rural and regional areas.

"We've just been around Australia and used payphones all the time," Mrs O'Neil said, just after using a payphone at Park Beach Plaza yesterday.

"They're cheaper and our mobiles were often out of range so we had to use them.

"You also need them when accidents happen and there is no mobile service."

But with more than 18 million mobile phones in Australia, Telstra says demand for payphones has been dropping, and that its plan to slash 1000 of its 32,000 payphones over the next seven months is nothing out of the ordinary, just part of a regular review.

In fact, over the past six years, about 17,000 payphones have disappeared ? and documents leaked to the Australian Financial Review say n From Page 1

the number of Telstra payphones to be lost is closer to 5000.

Many have not joined the mobile phone masses ? be it because they refuse to be contactable 24 hours a day or because they can't afford them ? and there are concerns that removing more payphones will further alienate young or elderly people, and unemployed or low-paid workers.

"It's people who can't afford mobiles who have to use the payphones," Mrs Pearce said.

Telstra was unable to say yesterday exactly which phones in the region would be taken away, but said at least one would go from Coffs Harbour.

Nambucca Shire Council is aware of three phones that will go ? one of the two on Ridge Street, Nambucca, one of the two on Cooper Street, Macksville, and the sole payphone west of Tilly Willy Bridge on Joffre Street, Macksville.

But Telstra Country Wide Mid North Coast general manager Michael Sharpe insisted the 7500 phones guaranteed under the telco's universal service obligation ? mostly in rural and regional areas ? would not be affected.

"Generally, those that will go will be in low-usage and high vandalism areas, and in banks where there are more than one phone, although of course there will be exceptions," he said.

He added a three-month community consultation period would give payphone users a chance to protest if they wanted the phone to stay.

"We do have this consultation. We put stickers in the phone booths that are earmarked for removal inviting people to write in to us or call us. If there is significant interest in keeping the phone, then we'll reconsider."

Telstra says this consultation is legitimate with 10 per cent of phones selected for removal in the past being retained as a result of the process.



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