Budget 2017: AU$12m for in-train Wi-Fi and mobile coverage

The Australian government will provide AU$12 million over three years to improve Wi-Fi and mobile coverage across the Hornsby and Wyong train routes in NSW.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has announced that it will be providing AU$12 million in funding to build Wi-Fi and mobile coverage across trains in New South Wales.

"This program will establish mobile and internet connectivity along the train route between Hornsby and Wyong," the federal government said in its Budget 2017-18 on Tuesday.

Under the project, AU$5 million will be given towards the project in 2017-18, AU$5 million in 2018-19, and AU$2 million in 2019-20.

According to the Budget 2017-18, expenses for the entire communication sub-function under the Department of Communications and the Arts and the Australian Communications and Media Authority are estimated to increase by 75.7 percent between 2016-17 and 2017-18; and 9.9 percent from 2017-18 to 2020-21.

"The estimated increase primarily reflects movement of funds for the Mobile Black Spots Program from 2016-17 into 2017-18 and increased expenditure for the Regional Broadband Scheme," the government said.

As such, communication expenses will amount to AU$696 million in 2016-17, AU$1.25 billion in 2017-18, AU$1.35 billion in 2018-19, AU$1.46 billion in 2019-20, and AU$1.47 billion in 2020-21, although the government did not break down what this would be spent on.

In regards to fixed-line connectivity, the government noted that it will be providing AU$7 million over four years to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to establish the Broadband Performance Monitoring and Reporting Program, which will collect and publish information comparing the speed and reliability of fixed-line retail broadband services delivered over the National Broadband Network (NBN).

"The cost of this measure will be recovered from fixed-line retail broadband service providers participating in the program through an increase in the Annual Carrier Licence Charge between 2018-19 and 2021-22," the government added.

It also made note of its decision at the end of last year to provide the extra AU$19.5 billion needed for NBN to complete its rollout across the nation, as well as its deals with Optus and Telstra to incorporate the hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks into the NBN.

NBN had originally been given AU$29.5 billion in equity by the government, with the remaining AU$19.5 billion to be sourced through private debt funding by NBN itself once the government's funding ran dry.

"To help ensure that NBN can fully focus on the remaining rollout as it significantly ramps up, the government has decided to provide the remaining funding required to complete that rollout through a government loan to NBN Co Ltd on commercial terms," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in November.

"In anticipation of a future privatisation of NBN as provided for in the NBN Companies Act 2011, it is expected that this loan will be re-financed by NBN on external markets in 2020-21."

The government said in its 2016-17 Budget that having to provide additional equity contributions if NBN failed to raise debt privately would impact Australia's financial position, but no mention of this was made on Tuesday.

"In the event that NBN is initially unable to raise the necessary debt on acceptable terms, interim funding support may be required," the government said in last year's Budget papers.

"Were it required, additional government financial support for NBN would have implications for the fiscal position, for example by increasing assets and liabilities on the balance sheet and, depending on the nature of support, could have positive or negative impacts on the underlying cash balance."

Other communications programs announced on Tuesday included Geoscience Australia, which is to deliver a platform to provide insights from satellite data into Australia's landscape and coastline.

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