City of Sydney steps up war over Telstra payphone advertising

Local councils are to step up their campaign to stop Telstra’s roll out of large screen advertising displays, with the City of Sydney on Monday night resolving to lobby politicians and regulators over the telco’s plans.

The move follows the City of Melbourne last month resolving to challenge Telstra’s right to circumvent local planning roles over the size and impact of JC Decaux-owned digital panels in the city centre.

An example of the large format JC Decaux Telstra payphone units in Perth’s Hay Street Mall

At a council meeting last night, City of Sydney councillors called on Lord Mayor Clover Moore to seek support from various politicians and regulators for their view that Telstra’s plans are not exempt from council control.

Councillors called on Moore to write to the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims; minister for communications, Mitch Fifield; shadow minister, Michelle Rowland; NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian; and the CEO of Telstra, Andy Penn.

The motion was proposed by the city’s sole Liberal councillor, Craig Chung, and unanimously supported by the rest of the independent dominated chamber.

At the heart of the dispute is JC Decaux and Telstra’s Adbooth partnership unveiled in late 2017 to “bring the phone box into the 21st Century” with 1,860 payphones nationally being upgraded to include mobile phone charging ports, digital advertising screens, public transport information, and interactive digital art, along with multilingual and disability support services.

Telstra is required by law to provide payphones that are reasonably accessible to all people in Australia and the telco has taken its exemption from local planning rules for ‘low impact’ installations as an opportunity to roll out large display advertising units.

While councils have criticised the units as being too large and presenting potential pedestrian hazards, with the City of Melbourne claiming increased footpath congestion might cost the city up to $2.1bn in lost productivity, Telstra claims the new booths are only 15cm wider than existing phone installations.

The City of Sydney, however, claims Telstra’s exemptions for ‘low impact’ facilities only apply to the provision of standard telephone services and advertising is not covered by the legislation.

JC Decaux’s relationship with Telstra has been a sticking point with the City of Sydney as the council seeks to tender out its 20-year-old street furniture contract.

In January, the JC Decaux and Telstra joint venture pulled out of the tender with some sources claiming concerns about the large format payphone units were partly responsible for the scuttled bid for Australia’s largest out-of-home contract.

The council also resolved to work with other city councils though the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors to form a united voice against Telstra’s plans to roll out the display units nationally.


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