Labor will invest AU$245m in regional telco programs if elected

Labor’s promises have mirrored the Coalition’s, with AU$160 million to go to the mobile blackspots program and AU$60 million to work on Connected Community Plans with state, territory, and local governments.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian Labor party has announced that it will invest AU$245 million in regional mobile telecommunications if elected later this month.

Mirroring the current government's election promises, Labor said AU$160 million would be spent on two more rounds of mobile blackspots, which would include improving collocation and infrastructure sharing programs.

Labor would also set aside AU$60 million to work with state, territory, and local governments on regional projects to develop Connected Community Plans.

"This place-based approach will help identify priorities for investment in local connectivity projects and digital literacy initiatives, including in remote Indigenous communities," a joint statement from Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.

The Labor party also said it would improve data collection alongside industry and regulators in order to create accurate mobile coverage maps. This would see the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) tracking capital investment in mobile networks in regional areas, including new 5G networks.

A Labor government would additionally push more co-investments in network infrastructure alongside Australia's states and territories, including to "ensure that Commonwealth investment in road and rail projects incorporate a communications coverage plan where feasible; and investigate co-building of mobile network infrastructure in areas of defined need such as transport routes, where public land can be leveraged in exchange for cooperation amongst mobile network operators".

The federal opposition party lastly said it would improve battery back-up power arrangements for new mobile towers located in bushfire-prone areas; and kick in funding to improve Indigenous telco services in remote areas.

Labor did not say what the other AU$25,000 would be invested in, but said it will have further regional initiatives to announce later as part of the package.

"Labor is also the only party with a plan to improve the NBN," Shorten and Jones added.

Jones had flagged in July last year that Labor would find "smarter" ways of connecting regional areas if elected, adding that the 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 had said that Labor's future policy would embrace all of these options.

Ahead of the 2019 Federal Budget, the government also announced that it would invest AU$220 million to improve regional telecommunications -- AU$160 million going towards funding two more rounds of the mobile blackspots program; and AU$60 million to develop a Regional Connectivity Program. The government will also found a "digital tech hub to improve digital literacy".

The government also pointed to Telstra's own regional upgrade announced earlier this year, as well as the government's audit into Telstra's Copper Continuity Obligation compliance and Customer Service Guarantee performance under the Universal Service Obligation (USO).

Telstra's program of work to upgrade and maintain its services in regional Australia will see it repair or replace 1,000 cable joints and some cabling on the worst-performing cables; migrate 350 customers off its old high-capacity radio concentrator (HCRC) network onto NextG Wireless Local Loop (NGWL) telephone services; and replace around 200 batteries in exchanges and roadside cabinets where mains power failures occur frequently.

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