Victorian government pledges AU$25m for mobile, broadband, Wi-Fi coverage

Victoria's 2018 Budget will see it spend AU$11 million on mobile blackspots, AU$7 million on improved broadband in regional areas, and AU$7 million on free Wi-Fi networks in Geelong and Shepparton.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Victorian government has announced that it will be investing AU$11 million in the mobile blackspot program as part of an overall AU$45 million spend on improving digital technology and infrastructure in regional areas across the state.

"The government is investing AU$45 million to give regional Victorian homes and businesses access to mobile and broadband technologies, enabling them to participate in the digital economy," the Victorian government said in its Budget 2017-18 papers.

"This will include AU$11 million for the mobile blackspots program, with a focus on increasing mobile telephone coverage in flood- and fire-prone areas with poor coverage."

Victoria has a target of 30 new mobile base stations to be facilitated during 2017-18, and 20 during 2016-17, some of which will be provided under the AU$18 million Regional Rail Connectivity Project announced last month -- which will involve 35 new mobile towers being built out by 2018 by Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone along Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Traralgon, and Seymour train lines.

The government will also be directing AU$7 million towards "enhanced broadband projects" in Morwell, North Geelong, and Horsham, and AU$7 million on establishing free public Wi-Fi networks throughout Shepparton and Geelong. Victoria already has free Wi-Fi across Melbourne, Ballarat, and Bendigo thanks to a deal with TPG.

The spending on improved regional broadband comes despite the federal government's National Broadband Network (NBN), which will connect all Australian premises with fibre, copper, cable, fixed-wireless, or satellite services by 2020.

Victoria's remaining regional digitisation spend will be segmented into AU$12 million on four projects "to support the adoption of internet enabled on farm technologies" in the north-west, Macalister Irrigation District, Murray-Darling Basin, and Serpentine regions; AU$7 million on the government's Digital Economy Plan aimed at increasing innovation in its regional industries; and AU$1 million on improving access to the government's communications infrastructure for regional services.

Another telecommunications program will see AU$4 million in funding provided in 2017-18 and AU$0.4 million in 2018-19 to the Department of Justice and Regulation for emergency systems.

"Funding will be provided to continue delivery of a modern national telephone warning system," the budget papers said.

"This will allow emergency services to send messages to landlines and mobile phones within a defined area about likely or actual emergencies. This will continue to minimise risks to public safety by using a proven and modern emergency alert system."

The digitisation of education, meanwhile, will see a AU$84.3 million spend to upgrade technology in the classroom.

"Regardless of where they live, every Victorian child deserves every chance in life," the government said.

"Key initiatives include ... AU$84.3 million to upgrade digital technology in our classrooms. AU$16.4 million has been provided specifically for the regions to increase digital connectivity in rural and regional schools."

Critical IT in digital education will be allocated AU$0.4 million in funding during 2016-17, AU$3 million in 2017-18, AU$50.4 million in 2018-19, AU$8.1 million in 2019-20, and AU$6.1 million in 2020-21; and improving regional connectivity in digital education will see funding of AU$4.1 million annually to 2020-21.

"Information technology will be upgraded across Victorian government schools to provide reliable access to digital services in the classroom that are essential to teaching and learning. The investment will renew school Wi-Fi and state-wide virtual conferencing infrastructure to support more than half a million student computers," the government added.

"Funding will be provided to increase bandwidth and digital connectivity for rural schools. This initiative will focus on bringing small regional and rural government primary and secondary schools to the same standard of provision as metropolitan schools."

Law enforcement will likewise receive funding for digitisation, with automatic number-plate recognition technology to be provided to the state's highway patrol, and the Supreme Court of Victoria getting AU$6.3 million in 2017-18 and AU$3.3 million in 2018-19 for an IT upgrade.

"Funding will be provided for the delivery of contemporary in-court technology for the Supreme Court of Victoria to enable remote testimony from vulnerable and interstate/overseas witnesses," the state explained.

"This will also reduce movement and transportation costs associated with prisoners who need to give evidence in court, and enable digital display of evidence in the courtroom."

The government will also replace and upgrade the police stations in several regional areas in an effort to enable police to prevent, detect, and disrupt crimes by "providing them with the technology and training required to respond to changing crime and community needs".

Victoria Police last year received a technology funding boost of AU$36.8 million from the government, which was spent on providing front-line officers with body-worn video cameras to allow them to capture footage; giving tablets to officers to provide information about offenders and victims; building seven new police stations in regional Victoria; and upgrading 15 stations.

The Victorian government announced in February that it would also be tasking SAS Institute Australia with developing software that connects disparate police databases in an effort to cut the time it takes for Victoria Police's 600-plus crime analysts to connect the dots between people, events, vehicles, properties, activities, social media, and police information down from hours to minutes.

In terms of the government's focus on cybersecurity, AU$11.9 million has been pledged for 2017-18 for the Department of Health and Human Services' network connectivity and technology refresh following AU$5 million being distributed across 15 telehealth connectivity projects in regional areas in March.

"Preventative cybersecurity controls and tools to detect suspicious cybersecurity events will be implemented across 29 identified Victorian Health Service networks," the government said.

In August last year, the government also handed out AU$450,000 to Dimension Data for a cybersecurity incubator as part of the AU$6.5 million first round of its LaunchVic funding.

Lastly, AU$9.3 million in 2017-18 and AU$26 million in 2016-17 has also been earmarked for improving the Department of Premier and Cabinet's digital government and communications services in order to provide citizens with information and services online and via other digital means.

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