Mobile blackspot second round bidding begins

The federal government has opened up the second round of mobile blackspot funding for telcos to compete for.

The Australian government has launched its Mobile Black Spot Programme Round 2, with telecommunications providers now able to bid for a slice of the AU$60 million of government funding to upgrade or build out new mobile towers across the country.

The program is designed to bring mobile coverage to rural and remote areas of the country.

"Being a rural Australian and living two hours' drive from the city myself, I understand how important mobile phone coverage is to rural Australians," Minister for Regional Communications Fiona Nash said on Friday.

"It would be great if telecommunications companies put up base stations in every small community in Australia, but we know that isn't viable for them -- so we've invested another AU$60 million to partner with companies to get coverage to many more rural and remote Australians."

Nash, who was last week appointed to the newly minted Regional Communications portfolio during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Cabinet reshuffle, said the government received 4,400 location nominations for Round 2, with over 10,600 locations now in the national database after joining the unsuccessful locations from Round 1.

Telcos applying to build or improve a base station can choose from this list of localities from today. When bidding, telcos must specify the amount of government funding required, how much they will contribute to the funding, the amount of funding they will receive from a state or local government or other source, and detail how bringing coverage to a specific area would benefit the community.

The government will then rank each location based on criteria outlined in its guidelines, and announce the successful locations in the latter half of this year.

Vodafone Australia has already signalled that it will take part in Round 2 of the program.

"We are pleased to see the start of the competitive selection process for Round 2 of the federal government's Mobile Black Spot Programme," Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd said on Friday.

"We look forward to again participating in this program to deliver the full benefits of coverage and choice to customers in more regional areas through increased competition and infrastructure sharing."

The first round of mobile blackspot funding was opened in December 2014, with Vodafone and Telstra securing AU$185 million in government funding to build or upgrade 499 mobile towers across Australia.

Telstra switched on its first three mobile blackspot cell towers at the end of last year, with Vodafone following two days later.

Telstra and Vodafone earlier this month published their rollout schedules for Round 1 of the program, revealing the 78 locations that will be constructed and switched on by the end of July.

In total, Telstra will build out 429 cell towers, while Vodafone builds out 70, with the full Round 1 rollout to be completed within three years.

Telstra is also looking to install 250 small cells in yet-to-be-determined locations across Australia in order to provide small towns with 4G services where Telstra infrastructure is available.

Telstra itself has invested AU$165 million into the mobile blackspot program.

The government in December announced the second round of its mobile blackspot program, then extending the nomination timeframe, giving communities until January 15 to put forward their region to receive new or upgraded base stations for greater mobile coverage.

Under its recent focus on regional telecommunications coverage, the government earlier this week tabled its report responding to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review, recommending that a review be undertaken of the oft-criticised Universal Service Obligation (USO).

However, it also argued that the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) -- particularly its satellite and fixed-wireless networks -- has already addressed a large swathe of the coverage concerns.

The Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee's 12 recommendations included establishing a Consumer Communication Fund (CCF) in place of the USO; managing demand and prioritising traffic on the NBN satellite service; increasing the flexibility of NBN satellite services for retail service providers and providing data usage alerts; extending the NBN fixed-wireless footprint to reduce satellite customer numbers; upgrading public safety networks; providing better information on the NBN rollout and technologies being used; and reporting further on regional telco availability and affordability.

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