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Australian councils lose OOH court dispute

A long-standing dispute between three Australian councils and mobile network Telstra, has been brought to an end by the Federal Court.

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Telstra has partnered with JCDecaux to upgrade its phone booths in Australia. Image: Maksym Kozlenko

The feud began in 2017 when Telstra and JCDecaux announced plans to redesign 1,860 payphones in Melbourne and surrounding areas.

The booths were to be upgraded to include phone charging, digital advertising screens, public transport information and multilingual and disability support.

Measuring in at 2.7m x 1.2m, the new payphone structures are considerably larger than older phonebooths in the city. In May 2019, local councils raised concerns over the impact of the new booths and advertising screens.

The City of Melbourne sought out the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal which prompted Telstra to turn to the Federal Court. This meant the judgement would apply across the whole country.

The City of Sydney, along with City of Melbourne and Brisbane City Council, opposed moves by Telstra for these enlarged payphones to be permitted on our streets without local authority approval

As a result, the City of Sydney and Brisbane City Council both filed applications to join the City of Melbourne in the Federal Court proceedings.

On March 10th, the court found the booths to be “low-impact” facilities and do not require council approval.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, a City of Sydney spokesperson said it was “disappointed” with the decision.

The spokesperson adds: “The City of Sydney, along with City of Melbourne and Brisbane City Council, opposed moves by Telstra for these enlarged payphones to be permitted on our streets without local authority approval.”

While Telstra has been granted the ability to install the new payphones, it will still need to apply for permission to display commercial advertising.

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore describes the payphones as a “Trojan horse for advertising”, and told The Sydney Morning Herald she feels it is “outrageous that a private corporation is allowed to unilaterally take over valuable public land for large digital advertising displays”.



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