Telstra today announced that all its payphones across Australia – there are still more than 15,000 of them out there – will now be free to use for local and national calls and calls to Australian mobile numbers.
Despite the explosion of smartphone usage, Telstra says payphones are still important to the community.
More than 11 million calls were made on Telstra payphones in the past year including more than 230,000 calls to critical services like 000 and Lifeline.
It has proven to be a vital service for Australia’s most vulnerable people and for those in regional and remote areas.
Telstra’s decision means anyone can use the payphones to make a free local or national call or call an Australian mobile number.
“Telstra Payphones are now free phones for everyone to anywhere in Australia,” said Telstra CEO Andy Penn.
“They are an iconic and critical part of our community, and for many Australians, the availability of a payphone is a vital lifeline, especially for those who are vulnerable including the homeless, people who are isolated or someone escaping an unsafe situation.
“That’s why I have taken this decision to make national calls from payphones free, because they play such a critical role in our community, particularly in times of need and for those in need.
“I have been moved seeing firsthand queues of people waiting in line, to use a payphone to tell their family and friends they’re safe after a bushfire, a cyclone or some other natural disaster has taken the mobile network down. I can only imagine the relief their families feel knowing their loved one is safe.
“During COVID-related lockdowns, we’ve seen domestic and family violence agencies report a 60 per cent rise in new clients seeking help for the first time, and an increase in abusive behaviours overall.
“It’s not always easy for people in these situations to use a home phone or their mobile to get help so I hope that making payphone calls free might play a small part in helping them get the assistance they need.
“Our payphones have previously been made free to communities devastated by natural disasters when communications were vital to keep communities connected.
“Telstra also made domestic calls free across nearly 600 payphones in remote Indigenous communities in 2020 to ensure these areas remained connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
History of Public Telephones in Australia
– The first public telephones in Australia were introduced in the late 1880s.
– The first public telephone in Sydney was opened on 3 March 1893
– By 1910 there were 2000 public telephones operational in Australia, by 1920 this had doubled to 4000
– Until 1920 public telephones were an over-the-counter service from post offices.
– From 1920, public telephones adopted a format more closely aligned to the modern public payphone, with the introduction of payment via coins.
– Multi-Coin public payphones came into operation in 1935
– The coin telephone (no. 1) was introduced in 1966
– August 1986, the payphone as it is now known, was established
– Major changes in 2019 significantly improved the value of calls, and enabled incoming calls to payphones for the first time ever
Factoids on payphones
– Peak payphone numbers in Australia were 36,000 payphones in 2001.
– In 2021 there are 15,076 payphones across the country
– The first Telstra payphone in Australia was located at Sydney GPO in Martin Place
– The first Telstra Payphone was introduced in 1893 and the cost of a call was one six pence for 3 mins
– We have previously launched short term “free call” initiatives have generated hundreds of thousands of calls and millions of minutes of conversations.
– Bushfires free call initiatives generated close to 3.5m calls and over 8 million minutes of conversations between (6 Jan and 1 March 2020)