As more of Australia descends into lockdown, all of Australia’s phone boxes will be made free to use for the foreseeable future.
It’s not easy to be in lockdown for so long, but if you have someone to talk to, the isolation is made a little easier. While Sydney undergoes a longer lockdown than expected and Queensland makes its way into one, with much of the rest of the country on a knife edge for the delta variant — thanks, coronavirus — Telstra is doing something to try and keep people connected: it’s making its payphones free once again.
The over 15,000 payphones and phone boxes found across Australia are having their payment systems switched off permanently, with calls to local, national, and mobile numbers supported free of charge in any location you can find one.
It’s a return to free calls for Telstra which has launched its free pay phone calls during the holiday season for several years now, going back as far as 2016, and amidst national disasters such as the bushfires to keep people connected, giving communities a way to call each other in a pinch using a landline, handy if mobile isn’t quite cutting it or the person just doesn’t have mobile access at the time.
“Our payphones have previously been made free to communities devastated by natural disasters when communications were vital to keep communities connected,” said Andrew Penn, CEO of Telstra.
“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,” he said.
While mobiles may well be the dominant form of communication in Australia, in the past year, 11 million calls were made through payphones, including over 230,000 calls to services like triple-zero (000) and Lifeline, critical services to get help to the community. The decision to launch this comes during another of those crucial times, as anyone can aim to connect.
“We take our responsibility for keeping people connected seriously, and today’s announcement shows that commitment at work,” said Penn.
Telstra told Pickr that the move to free payphones is a permanent change, meaning if you need to call a local number, a national number, a critical service, or someone on a mobile, you won’t pay a thing. However Telstra payphones will still incur a cost for international, premium, and satellite calls, with the payphones also becoming coin less from October 1.
It’s also worth noting that during the pandemic, if you plan on using a payphone, you might want to bring with a cloth to wipe down the receiver and some hand sanitiser for afterwards. While the cost of payphones is now free, the phone boxes are unlikely to be cleaned from person to person, and the coronavirus is still a problem.
In a phone box, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to share the same close proximity air space as someone else, sure, but the last time we checked the World Health Organisation, it said surface transmission was still a thing especially if you touch your face without realising it, so if you plan on using a phone or receiver in a phone box, you might want to keep wearing that mask, bring a cloth, and sanitiser, lest that free call puts you at any unnecessary risk from anyone else.