Labor unveils mobile blackspots strategy

Shadow Regional Comms Minister Stephen Jones said Labor will look to better mobile coverage info from telcos and more collaboration with state and local governments, with more funding to be allocated to the mobile blackspots program if elected.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The federal opposition party has outlined its strategy for the mobile blackspots program if elected, saying "smarter" ways of connecting regional areas must be found.

Speaking during the CommsDay Unwired conference on Wednesday, Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones said the federal government's mobile blackspots program "must evolve".

Pointing to not only mobile base stations but also small cells, repeaters and boosters, low-orbit satellites, and backhaul, Jones said Labor's future policy will embrace all of these options.

"Labor understands there will be an increase in cost pressure on building new base stations in more remote and hard-to-access sites, and our aim is to ensure that people who run businesses, reside in, or holiday in a regional area have the prospect of better access to mobile broadband and voice services," Jones said.

"That is why Labor commits to further funding to address this issue, and further announcements will be made in future."

Jones said Labor would also work with state governments, local councils, businesses, and emergency services on regional connectivity plans and strategies to make use of existing infrastructure such as light poles and fibre-optic networks.

In addition, it would require better information to be required on precise mobile network coverage to be more easily compared between telcos, which would help both consumers choose a service and aid the government in identifying where to provide blackspot funding.

According to Jones, who pointed to an audit office report from almost two years ago, the current Coalition government has "wasted resources" throughout the program by building base stations in areas that didn't improve or extend coverage, or where they would have been built anyway, with Labor aiming to improve the choice process.

"The job of addressing connectivity and mobile phone blackspots is not complete. More remains to be done, and we have to become smarter in how we approach it," Jones said.

"Finding flexible and innovative ways to fund better mobile coverage in regions is not only good for communities and inclusiveness, it's good for economic growth. Labor's committed to the task of improving mobile coverage."

The government last month announced that the first base station under round three of the mobile blackspots program had gone live, with Telstra providing coverage to East Lynne in New South Wales.

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

Optus is 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.

The government's 2018-19 federal Budget did not set aside any additional funding for the mobile blackspots program, despite calls for this from the opposition Labor party, but the government in June said it would invest a further AU$25 million in a fourth round of its mobile blackspots program.

The Department of Communications in May revealed that one telco is using diesel generators to provide power for base stations under the federal government's mobile blackspots program, while another is storing its backup batteries "out in the environment".

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