You may not realise they still exist, but spotted all around the country are Telstra payphones which last year were used 11 million times, but that number is likely to go up as the company sets them free, free to use.

This morning, Telstra CEO Andy Penn announced the change, noting the importance of the change to all Australians, particularly those in an unsafe situation saying “Telstra Payphones are now free phones for everyone to anywhere in Australia. 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.”

Local calls, national calls and even mobile calls will all be free, meaning when your battery goes flat, you’ve got a phone to use. When your kids are out and about, you can be safe in the knowledge they can call you.

But more importantly those without easy access to technology, or living on the street will have free access to call friends or family at any time. This is something the company has done at certain times of year in the past, but now, they are set to be made free to use 365 days a year.

It’s a great move by Telstra, which is taking a hit here, not just in the $5 million lost revenue from the calls that were being made, but add to that the extra calls which will be made under this new free-for-all.

But don’t cry for Telstra, they won’t miss that 0.026% of their revenue – but they are doing the right thing here.

Now – all you need to do if you want to use a payphone is actually remember the number of the people you want to call. Ask yourself, how many people’s numbers do you actually know today?

Here’s how Telstra views the 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