The Australian Government quietly released its response to the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into the Telecommunications Universal Service Obligation, shortly before Christmas.

It appears that Australians’ right to safe and reliable phone lines and payphones is soon to be relegated to history.  Whilst the response assures us that a new Universal Service Guarantee, which is to replace the Universal Service Obligation (USO), will make available broadband and voice services to 100 per cent of premises on request, the detail on how this might be achieved is sketchy.

Instead, alarmingly, the Government’s response spruiks Australians’ uptake of mobile phones, claiming more than 99 per cent of Australians already have access to at least one mobile network, and states that voice and broadband services will be “delivered on a commercial basis by the market in the first instance”.

It’s bad enough that the NBN has left most city dwellers without the means of a safe phone line when the power goes off (and battery backup offers only short-term respite).  But now rural dwellers are to be hit even harder; households in the NBN fixed wireless and satellite footprints will be expected to rely on wireless communications for all their voice services.

The Productivity Commission’s report states that the Universal Service Guarantee (USG) should start following the completion of the NBN rollout in 2020.  In line with the Commission’s recommendations, the Government has commenced work on the new USG.  However, the Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, assures us that no changes will be made to the current USO (which was originally meant to run until 2032) unless the “proposed new service delivery arrangements are more cost effective ...”.

Given that the Government’s input into the existing USO is only $100 million annually (with industry levies providing the balance), it beggars belief that substituting wireless services in rural areas for copper landlines will prove to be more cost effective if all costs are considered.  But that’s the catch – many of the potential costs are being steadfastly ignored by Government.

From a health perspective alone, the long-term ramifications of pushing rural Australians onto 24/7 wireless services is likely to result in costs to the nation which will dwarf current funding.

An increase in brain tumours is but one of the many adverse outcomes which studies have highlighted as being a possible result of long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation.  Brain cancer is a rare disease; however, according to Australia’s Cure Brain Foundation it now kills more children in Australia than any other disease.  According to an independent study prepared for the Cancer Council New South Wales, using data available to June 2006, the average lifetime financial costs to households for brain cancer were $149,400; this increased to $449,100 for males up to 14 years old.

Taxpayers also pay the price of increased brain tumours.  An overseas 2013 study, entitled “Swedish review strengthens grounds for concluding that radiation fr...”, states that treatment of a single case of brain cancer can cost between $100,000 for radiation therapy alone and up to $1 million (USD) depending on drug costs.  And brain cancer is only one of the adverse health outcomes that may eventuate as a result of increased exposure to pulsed microwave radiation.

How ironic that progressive health authorities elsewhere in the world are advising the public to consider using landlines as an alternative to mobile phones due to substantial scientific evidence of risk, particularly in regards to children.  For instance, in Israel, the Ministry of Health recommends sensible use of cellular and wireless technology, including “considering alternatives like landline telephones” (Environmental Health in Israel, Chapter 10, Non-Ionizing Radiation); similarly, the Cyprus Medical Association, Vienna Austrian Medical Chamber and Cyprus National Committee on Environment and Children’s Health recently released the Nicosia Declaration on Electromagnetic Fields/Radiofrequencies, which advises that children under 16 should use mobile phones only for emergencies, and that phone calls at home and at work should be made via a hardwired network.  In Australia, however, children as well as adults are to be denied the choice to choose a safe means of voice communication.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity sufferers marginalised

The Productivity Commission Inquiry Report on the USO highlighted the role of phones in creating social inclusion.  Yet despite recognition of this, and the fact that a number of participants stated in their submission that their electromagnetic hypersensitivity rendered them unable to tolerate wireless signals without becoming ill, this direct evidence was dismissed by the Commission.

Instead, the Commission’s report lamely relayed ARPANSA’s opinion on the matter (‘no established scientific evidence that electromagnetic hypersensitivity is caused by electromagnetic fields below exposure guidelines’) and opined that there are “already Australian Government measures to address concerns in this area…”.  Sadly, none of the measures which were mentioned include a means by which sufferers might access a phone line without being exposed to pulsed wireless radiation!  The Commission also considered that, “even if concerns about health effects were validated”, measures such as “providing consumer information” or “setting standards” would be a more cost-effective means of addressing this issue.

Based on this, it would seem that the needs of people with electrohypersensitivity will continue to be ignored.

Fragility of wireless communications

It appears that the Government is also labouring under the assumption that wireless communications are as robust as hard-wired landlines and payphones.  This is remarkedly short-sighted.  Even damage from a storm can render communication towers useless for days, if not longer.  Is the Government going to factor in the potential cost to the community of events such as this?

If the Australian Government’s plans for its new Universal Service Guarantee is of concern to you, please raise this issue with your local Federal MP and/or write to:

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
Minister for Communications

To view the Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, along with its findings and recommendations, go here.   (The response to concerns raised by the public about electromagnetic energy exposure is covered on pp. 237-239, plus see the comment on p. 160.)

For previous posts on this issue, see:

Telstra’s obligation to provide landlines may be given the flick

Landlines Petition

(Source:; February 7, 2018;

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 New Zealand will follow no doubt.  I use my cell phone for texting but seldom for phone calls.  I hate using it for phone calls. And when I have to I make them as brief as possible. I know they are dangerous and am sensitive to the radiation when in close proximity. Why do 'they' have to ruin everything?

Same Jenny, I discovered yrs ago that within minutes of talking on a cell phone I would become unexplainabley irritable and obnoxiously grumpy and the only thing I could pin it too was the damn cell phone which is why I have one only for emergency calls when out in a vehicle (I never take it with me on walks or when I used to go for big horse rides) corresponding to my kid's txts (they're the only ones with my number it would seem, besides the Telco trying to offer me 'deals' which I usually ignore).

Land line - Safe copper network removal...

Good afternoon,


I hope your week is off to a great start.


This is a brief email to update you on the landline phone issue.


First of all, thank you very much for making the time to send in a submission on the landline phone issue. I really appreciate your support.


I have learned from Elizabeth Rian who is the new secretary for the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee that the committee plans to consider the submissions that it received on February 15.


According to Elizabeth, it has not yet been decided whether or not there will be hearings on the submissions, or if so, where any hearing(s) will be held.


A request


If you live close enough to a main centre (Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch) that you would like to attend a hearing, I would appreciate it if you could email Elizabeth Rian today at to tell her that you would like to do this.   


If you do email Elizabeth Rian to indicate that you would like to attend the hearings, please also subsequently email me to let me know this and let me know which main centre you have indicated that you would like to attend.


(NB:  Select committee hearings are open to the public. You do not need to have indicated that you want to speak in support of your own submission in order to attend a hearing.  If you have time you could simply attend a hearing in support of those people who oppose the legislation who have indicated that they do want to speak.)


Last but not least, according to Elizabeth Rian, routine acknowledgements were not sent to people who emailed submissions on the telecommunications bill unless people specifically asked for an acknowledgement. If you sent in a submission and did not receive an acknowledgement this is probably why. 


If you would like confirmation that your submission was received, you could request this confirmation via email. 


Going forward


I will endeavour to keep you updated on this issue and let you know the outcome of any recommendations that the select committee may make once they have considered the submissions.


If you are on Facebook, please also consider “liking” and “following” the following pages so that you can get updates on this issue through this means, too.


Many thanks.


Kind regards,


Katherine Smith


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