Victoria's newly installed technology minister, Gordon Rich-Phillips, has said that the Commonwealth Government needs to act to improve the state's regional mobile coverage.
When the Coalition Government took power late last year, Premier Ted Baillieu told ZDNet Australia that Victorians should not have to fund the roll-out of the NBN if they didn't have access to basic services like mobile phone coverage.
"Before taxpayers fund an NBN, basic services such as mobile phone reception in many regional and metropolitan areas of Victoria should be addressed and improved wherever possible. A Coalition government will work closely with service providers and consult with the community, especially in regional Victoria, to improve services," Baillieu said in December.
Now, it seems that the onus for improving mobile networks has been shifted to the Commonwealth Government, according to remarks by Rich-Phillips in an email interview with ZDNet Australia.
"The Commonwealth Government has primary responsibility for ensuring there is adequate mobile phone coverage across Australia. Mobile phone coverage during emergency situations is of particular concern to the government," he said.
Rich-Phillips said that while the new government recognises the benefits of the NBN, it remains concerned as to the cost of the network.
"We are concerned that broadband users and taxpayers may pay too much for the Commonwealth's National Broadband Network. We want to ensure the NBN does not undermine competition in the broadband market, particularly around enabling new technologies and new telecommunications providers competing on merit," Rich-Phillips said, adding that the Commonwealth Government ought to be responsible for ensuring there is adequate coverage across Australia.
However, Rich-Phillips still thinks it would contribute positively to the state's IT sector.
"Clearly having the NBN National Operations Centre located in Melbourne helps Victorian companies get access to supply contracts. A few weeks ago, the NBN Co awarded contracts worth $1.3 billion to Victorian-based companies. We want to see this grow," he said.
Last week, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy urged the Baillieu Government not to stifle the growth of Victoria's IT sector. Rich-Phillips said he has no such intention, but instead plans to drive greater value from whole-of-government IT contracts.
"Victoria has a strong and vibrant ICT industry and is home to businesses as diverse as ISPs and niche software developers. As part of this, the government recognises the transformative nature of technology across society and business — particularly the positive impact that ICT can play in enabling business innovation and productivity," Rich-Phillips said.
"We also recognise that technology has the potential to significantly change the way the government engages with the community and delivers its services. We're keen to ensure that all sectors of the economy are using technology effectively and are aware of key technological developments," he added.