Federal Court Ruling on Telstra’s New Payphone Cabinets

In a Federal Court ruling issued last week, Telstra has won a case which will allow it to continue rolling out its New Payphone Cabinets with 75 inch (190cm) digital advertising screens as “low impact facilities” which do not require council planning approval. Schedule 3 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 provides that if a structure is a low impact facility it does not require council approval.

The decision gives Telstra the go-ahead to build up to 1,800 phone booths with digital advertising screens across Australia without council permission.

Melbourne City Council, City of Sydney and Brisbane City Council had joined together against Telstra’s New Phone Cabinet rollout, arguing that the New Payphone Cabinets were not low impact facilities and in fact were more like electronic billboards or digital street furniture which displayed rapidly changing advertising and should require planning permission.

The Federal Court ruled that Telstra’s New Payphone Cabinets “are low-impact facilities within the meaning of the Telecommunications Act and the Local Impact Facilities Determination. To be “low impact”, the digital screens on the payphone can only be used to advertise Telstra’s standard telephone services (STS) and not be used for commercial advertising. The Court did rule that If at a future date the cabinets were used for commercial advertising, this would require development approval by council.

Councils remain concerned that the digital screens might only advertise Telstra’s advertising for a short time, before becoming a commercial advertising billboard. Councils are also concerned about potential road safety issues such as reducing visibility, interfering with public safety initiatives such as CCTV surveillance, as well as increasing footpath congestion and potentially inconveniencing pedestrian traffic.