Leading telco lobby group folds as membership revenue dries up

After 30 years of representing government and big business in pushing for telecommunications reform, the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG) has folded.

The powerful body, whose membership includes companies such as Ford, American Express and the big banks, was instrumental in the waves of deregulation that has swept Australian telecommunications since the 1980s.

ATUG was very vocal through the past three decades in pushing for Telstra to be more competitive, and in the creation of Optus and Vodaphone.

In recent months, ATUG has been prominent for advocating against increased broadband prices as a result of the rollout of the NBN.

Chairman David Swift says decreased revenue was the major reason for the closure, as ATUG would not have been able to operate in a professional manner was it to continue.

“The global financial crisis hasn’t helped at all, and slowly membership has reduced. Therefore [ATUG’s] income has reduced,” he told SmartCompany.

“It was time to go before we were forced to go… to go with honour.”

Swift says although many groups currently lobby on behalf of residential consumers, often receiving government assistance to do so, the only other body to representing the corporate and government sector is the Australian Information Industry Association, “though they struggle as well”.

ATUG is hopeful another body may pick up a role similar to theirs, as Swift argues challenges for the sector still exist.

“There’s a view that the NBN will solve everything. And while I’m a supporter of the NBN, there is however continuing debate as to how it’s implemented that may have an adverse effect on our members,” he says.

“[And] there’s the ridiculous situation currently where if you go overseas you dare not use your phone for fear of the international roaming rates.”

Swift says continuing on despite not having the funds to professionally represent their members was unacceptable to the board.

“I’m sad that we’ve had to do this. But look at the positive side. ATUG has for 30 years represented corporate and business users, and has attained a reputation for doing so in a professional manner.”

“We weren’t out there grabbing headlines with rumours and innuendo… and in many cases we’ve achieved what we’ve asked for.”

In April this year, ATUG lost its managing director of 10 years, Rosemary Sinclair.

She was replaced by Anne Hurley as interim managing director for a period of three months.

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