Canberra commits $220m to boost regional connectivity

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 21 March, 2019

Canberra commits $220m to boost regional connectivity

The federal government has announced a $220 million pre-Budget investment into improving telecommunications connectivity in regional and rural areas.

The government has unveiled a new Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package of investments as part of its response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review.

The new investment will include $160 million to expand the Mobile Black Spot Program for a further two rounds, as well as $60 million towards a broader new Regional Connectivity Program.

Rounds five and six of the Mobile Black Spot Program — an initiative to improve mobile coverage in regional and rural communities — will focus on regional public interest premises. These are defined as premises that benefit the community, such as medical facilities, schools and economic centres.

The first four rounds of the program will see a total of 1047 new mobile base stations delivered across Australia, of which 682 have been switched on to date.

The total investment that will be committed through these rounds of the program will be $760 million, due to co-investments from local and state governments, mobile service providers, businesses and community groups.

As well as the expanded Mobile Black Spot Program, the government has also agreed to commit $60 million towards a broader Regional Connectivity Program.

The government’s response to the Regional Telecommunications Review states that this program will “take a place-based approach to targeting investment, based on local priorities, and complementing the Government’s investments in the nbn and Mobile Black Spot Program”.

The program will prioritise target areas outside of the nbn fixed line footprint that are of high economic, public safety or social value, and where the provision of improved connectivity will have a clear benefit to a local region.

Finally, the government has committed to progressing a proposal to establish a digital technology hub that would help regional consumers make informed choices about digital technologies and applications.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has hailed the announcement of the Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package as an encouraging sign for regional communities.

ACCAN Director of Policy Una Lawrence said the expanded Mobile Black Spot program will be life-changing for the regional communities selected to receive funding.

“Most of us now use mobile phones to keep in touch with family and friends whether we’re at home or travelling,” ACCAN Director of Policy Una Lawrence said.

“It’s heartening to see that the government is supporting our regions to do the same with this welcome investment into new, reliable mobile infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the Regional Connectivity Program could deliver well-needed improvements in regional telecommunications infrastructure in areas currently predominantly served by the nbn’s Sky Muster satellite communications service, ACCAN said.

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