NSW opens AU$100m Gig State 'better internet' project

State government also signs new regulation allowing video conferencing tools to be used in the witnessing of important legal documents like wills, powers of attorney, and statutory declarations.

The New South Wales government has kicked off the tender process for its new AU$100 million Gig State project that aims to deliver new network infrastructure and boost internet capacity for regional communities and businesses.

The Expressions of Interest (EOI) is seeking pitches from potential providers that are "innovative digital solutions that will improve the price, quality of service, and choice" in the target locations of Wagga Wagga, Parkes, Dubbo, and a corridor west to Cobar, as well as a fibre solution for residents in Sutton, Bywong, and Wamboin.

The aim is to extend the project to more areas in regional NSW.

"Gig State will seek the most effective and innovative ways to upgrade the critical digital links for regional NSW to deliver improved digital services, ensuring the potential of regional communities, businesses, and local economies is not limited by geography and technology in an increasingly online world," the newly formed Department of Regional NSW (DRNSW) said.

DRNSW said existing issues with connectivity challenges in regional NSW have been further highlighted by the impacts of COVID-19 and social distancing rules.

Gig State is part of the AU$400 million Regional Digital Connectivity program. Distributed over four years, AU$300 million has been allocated to mobile blackspots and AU$100 million for regional data hubs to improve internet connectivity, speeds, and reliability in the state's regions.

The EOI is the first step in the two-stage tender process for the Gig State project, with a request for tender expected to follow later this year.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, the state's AU$5 million Digital Farm Grants program has announced the Chapman Valley-Northampton fixed wireless network is now fully operational, boasting 37 new service connections.

The state's Digital Farm initiative aims to provide broadband to over 41,000 square kilometres and 1,240 businesses across the Kimberley, Mid-West, Wheatbelt, Peel, Great Southern, and South-West regions.

The government provided AU$1 million to the Mid-West rollout, while a further AU$1.5 million of cash and value-in-kind was contributed by local shires, grower groups, and network and IT company LogicIT Solutions.

High-speed broadband services are also already provided to the Shires of Chapman Valley, Northampton, Irwin, Mingenew, Three Springs, Coorow, Carnamah, Morawa, Perenjori, and parts of the City of Greater Geraldton as part of the initiative.

The second Mid-West Digital Farm network in the North Midlands is due for completion by the end of June.

The government also said mobile coverage in the Gascoyne region has been expanded with a new mobile base station at East Carnarvon.

The work has been completed under the mobile blackspot program and co-funded by the federal government, Telstra, and the WA government through its Regional Telecommunications Project.

See also: Australia gets round 5A of mobile blackspot program after round 5 undersubscribed

Video conference witnessing of legal documents now allowed

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman on Wednesday granted the ability for video conferencing platforms, such as Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Zoom to be used for the witnessing of important legal documents like wills, powers of attorney, and statutory declarations.

The new temporary regulation, made under section 17, opens in new window of the Electronic Transactions Act, which Speakman said would help reduce face-to-face contact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Thousands of legal documents are executed every day in the presence of one or more witnesses, but COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult for many people to do so in person," he said.

"Our first priority is always the safety and wellbeing of NSW residents, which is why we are changing the way these documents can be witnessed while the pandemic endures."

Under the new regulation, a witness must still see a person signing the document in real time to confirm the signature is legitimate.

The witness will sign the document, or a copy of the document, to confirm they witnessed the signature.

The NSW Department of Communities and Justice said this could be done on a hard copy that is scanned and sent to the witness, or on an identical counterpart of the document the signatory signs.

Traditional methods of signing and witnessing documents still remain valid.

The categories of people who are authorised to witness documents has also been expanded.

The state government said it would continue to consult on options for allowing certain documents to be signed and executed electronically.