Telstra has been accused of taking advantage of a legal loophole in Melbourne’s CBD by installing digital billboards which are “masquerading as payphones”.
The boards stand at more than two-and-a-half metres high and one metre wide, with reports some have been erected in the middle of busy pedestrian footpaths, forcing people to manoeuvre around them.
Telstra has been able to install the billboards under the guise of payphones, according to a statement from City of Melbourne Planning portfolio chair Nicholas Reece.
“These structures are advertising billboards masquerading as payphones,” Reece said.
The statement added, “City of Melbourne confirmed it is pursuing a range of measures, including the possibility of legal action, in a bid to halt the rollout of a further 80 Telstra advertising structures fitted with super-sized electronic billboards across central Melbourne.”
The rollout, which was approved in 2016, abides by the 1997 Federal Telecommunications Act 1997 which states planning approval is not required for telco infrastructure that meets “low-impact” criteria, as per the statement.
However, City of Melbourne’s Reece is not convinced.
“Twelve of these new super-sized advertising structures are being installed in Bourke Street — two of which are less than five metres apart,” he said.
“With nearly 90 per cent of Australians owning a mobile phone, it is impossible to comprehend that there is a need for this number of Telstra installations in the central city.”
“For 120 in prime locations throughout the city centre, that’s millions of dollars per year going to Telstra with no rental costs or compensation for the imposition on our public spaces,” he said.
It is estimated Telstra is raking in upwards of $8000 per week from each board.
“This is visual clutter and detracts from the streetscape,” Reece said.
“We need to urgently review the current advertising signs policy in the Melbourne Planning Scheme, which has not kept pace with the proliferation of electronic signage.”
“We would prefer to resolve these issues through discussion.
“Legal action is a last resort,” he added.
In a statement provided to B&T, a Telstra spokesperson said: “Telstra is upgrading about 1800 payphones across all Australian capital cities.
“We are working closely with all local and city councils to identify and agree suitable locations where the upgraded payphones will deliver the greatest benefits to the communities they serve.
“We are respectful of the planning process and the payphones in the City of Melbourne are installed in accordance with relevant legislation.
“Seventeen of the 40 Council-approved sites in the City of Melbourne have been completed, with a further 80 sites still under review.
“The threat of legal action is disappointing.”
Adding, “We have been liaising with the City of Melbourne over a number of years, including as recently as last month, on this issue. We will meet with the City of Melbourne to continue discussing their concerns.”