Government finds AU$25m for new mobile blackspots funding

Less than half the investment made in round three, the fourth round of funding has been pooled together from unallocated funds.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has announced investing a further AU$25 million into the country's mobile blackspots program, aimed at improving mobile coverage in regional or remote areas.

The fourth round of funding, available after pooling previously unallocated funding, is expected to be focused on driving improved outcomes for regional businesses and residents, tourism, health, education, and emergency services.

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Applications for a share of the AU$25 million will be opened to mobile network operators in the second half of this year, via a government tender process.

The government said input will also be sought from community organisations, and state and local governments to ensure blackspot locations that will provide "strong economic benefits" are considered.

To date, a total investment of over AU$680 million has been made into the blackspots program, with funding coming from state and local governments, telcos, and the Commonwealth.

The mobile blackspots program is more than half way complete, with the government saying it is on track to deliver 867 base stations nationwide by June 2019.

The government in April revealed which telcos would be taking a slice of the round three AU$60 million funding, with Telstra being designated 89 locations across the nation, Optus getting 12, and Vodafone Australia gaining one.

The federal government had in November opened the third round of its mobile blackspots program for tender, with 106 "priority" locations named as possibilities for the AU$60 million in funding to extend coverage.

The third round, announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the lead-up to the 2016 federal election in May 2016, exclusively targeted a list of identified priority locations.

The first round of mobile blackspot funding was opened in December 2014, and the government announced the second round a year later.

Optus will be building 114 new mobile sites under round two of the Australian government's mobile blackspots program while Telstra is responsible for 148, down from the 429 it was allocated under round one.

Vodafone Australia will build out just four mobile base stations under round two after being responsible for 70 under round one.

Prior to the 2018-19 Budget being handed down last month, the federal opposition called for a "fresh approach" to the mobile blackspots program, saying the federal government must use its Budget to take a step away from using the program to "meet political priorities rather than community needs".

"Despite initial disappointment that further funding was not available in this year's federal Budget, we are delighted that the government has made this important announcement today," National Farmers' Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said in a statement Tuesday.

"We acknowledge that the blackspots program is of significant scale, however there remain areas of regional Australia that are still without mobile phone coverage, having missed out on funding from the program so far.

"To this end, any measure that seeks to further mobile coverage in the bush will always be welcomed by us."

Meanwhile, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin has called on telcos to buy into the blackspot process.

"This is a real opportunity to ensure the funding that was not accessed in the first rounds is put to good use," Corbin said. "However, we cannot do this without a commitment from commercial operators as well."


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