Linda Daniele

A move to display commercial advertising on public phones throughout the CBD and inner-Sydney area has been put on hold, after questions were raised over the intentions of Telstra’s revenue-raising plans.

The City of Sydney Council delayed its decision to allow the submission of development applications (DAs) for the installation of 48 advertising panels across 32 proposed payphone sites.

Council needs to grant Telstra permission before it can apply for the installation of third-party advertising. If approved, it would be the first time products other than Telstra’s own could be advertised on public phones in the local government area.
Independent Councillor John McInerney asked for the decision to be deferred at the last council meeting, citing the need for more information on the usage of public phones.

‘The booths themselves are a community service, but not if they are not needed for that purpose,’ Cr McInerney said. ‘Our footpaths are increasingly jammed, so we need to look at whether the phone booths are just a support for advertising, masquerading as a social service.”

Cr McInerney queried whether the proposed sites for 32 payphones should be in ‘high density, commercial areas’ of the CBD.

‘It’s questionable that we need so many, particularly in the CBD, where people are relying on mobile phones,” he said. “There are very few proposed for Ultimo and none for Redfern. Arguably, these are areas where there’s more need.’

It comes after a new deal was brokered between Telstra and AdBooth Pty Ltd – the company currently replacing and maintaining payphones throughout Australia on Telstra’s behalf –  to sell ad space to third parties on the public phone booths.
Telstra labelled the agreement a ‘world first’. They said it was part of its bid to turn around declining profits of public payphones and could save them from obliteration given the increasing prevalence of mobile phones.

Seventeen of the proposed 32 public phone booth sites are in the CBD, with four sites each in Haymarket and Alexandria, two in Ultimo and one each in Waterloo, Zetland, Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills and Elizabeth Bay.

The original request to Council was for 66 updated payphones with advertising, however, after consultation with City officials, 34 of the requests were withdrawn because they were situated within conservation or special areas.

At some locations around Australia, advertising panels have already been installed on phone booths and currently display Telstra related ads, while at others the panels have yet to be installed.

AdBooth is part-owned by JCDecaux, who have a contractual agreement with the Council for exclusive advertising rights on street furniture and will manage all advertising on the Telstra payphones.

*This article was first published in City Hub, May 19, 2008 and City News, May 24, 2008.