Budget 2014: Mobile black spots and online safety commissioner receive funding

The Australian federal government has outlined its plan to spend AU$100m and AU$10m over the next four years to address regional mobile coverage and fund online safety programs, respectively.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The commonwealth government today announced plans to spend AU$10m on the creation of an online safety program aimed at children, as well as the establishment of an Office of the Children's e-Safety Commissioner.

A total of AU$2.4m will be spent to create and run the e-Safety commissioner's office over four years, with an additional AU$7.5m in funding across the same period being earmarked for online safety programs designed to run in schools. Over the four year period, a paltry AU$100,000 has been set aside to support Australian-based research and information campaigns on online safety.

"This is a significant commitment by the Australian Government to help keep Australian children safe online," said Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Paul Fletcher.

"We have responded to widespread community concern that more should be done to protect Australian children from harmful cyber-bullying material and to give them the safest possible online environment."

The government said it will soon announce the outcome of its public consultation on the role of the e-Safety commissioner and whether there would be a new process for removing content deemed 'harmful' to children from social media.

A number of submissions to the consultation process by technology companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Twitter, said the proposed e-Safety regime would likely be ineffective and hard to implement.

Mobile Black Spots Programme gets boost

Over the same four year period, the government's Mobile Black Spot Programme is set to receive AU$100m to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia.

For the next financial year, AU$10m has been set aside for the program, with AU$30m to be spent over the next three years.

Piggybacking on the towers used in the NBN fixed wireless rollout, the intent is to improve mobile coverage along major transport routes, small communities, and in areas susceptible to natural disasters.

The government said the program would aim to stimulate competition, as well as enhance public safety and boost productivity in selected communities.

Additional funding from state governments, industry, and local communities is expected to help fund the 250 to 300 new or upgraded mobile towers, with Victoria highlighted as one jurisdiction that has already flagged AU$40m will be spent on providing free Wi-Fi on from Melbourne to Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat, Seymour, and Traralgon, along with improved mobile reception along rail corridors.

The government expects to announce areas selected for the program by the first half of next year, with plans to begin roll out in the latter half of 2015.

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