Vodafone hops on election backwagon for mobile blackspot campaign

People living in remote areas should persuade their federal candidates of the need for more mobile blackspot funding, according to Vodafone.

Vodafone Australia is encouraging those living in regional and remote areas to use the upcoming federal election to persuade their local candidates via social media of the "urgent need" for greater mobile blackspot funding.

Choice, competition, and reliability for telecommunications services for those living in regional areas is still not adequate, according to Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd, with more funding needed before the mobile blackspot program that will even this out.

"It's time for Australians in regional and rural areas to send a clear message to their local MPs and candidates that action needs to be taken to end the mobile class divide between cities and rural and regional Australia," Lloyd said.

"For far too long, small businesses, farmers, and families in regional areas have been forced to put up with unreliable coverage, lack of choice of provider, or both, while people in the major cities enjoy world-class mobile services and strong competition.

"With 10,000 known mobile blackspots in regional Australia, the existing Mobile Black Spot Programme will only make a limited difference and needs to be expanded to bring services up to scratch."

Research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority last month revealed that just 37 percent of remote Australians accessed the internet via smartphone as of June 2015. By comparison, usage in major capital cities stood at 60 percent.

Lloyd added that the Universal Service Obligation (USO) -- which mandates Telstra as the fixed-line phone service provider of last resort, giving the telco hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the installation and maintenance of fixed-line services -- should also have its funding redistributed to the mobile blackspot program, an argument that Vodafone Australia CEO Inaki Berroeta has previously made.

"The AU$300 million provided to Telstra every year through the USO to maintain an outdated copper network and payphones in regional areas can be much better spent," Lloyd argued.

"If some USO funds were diverted to a permanent Mobile Black Spot Programme, more Australians in rural and regional Australia could benefit from increased coverage and choice.

"With the federal election quickly approaching, now is the time for regional communities to send a clear message that they deserve a better deal on mobile telecommunications."

The USO is now facing government reform thanks to the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review, which made 12 recommendations on how the government can improve regional access to telco services to leverage connectivity for business, education, health, and personal purposes.

The first round of mobile blackspot funding was opened in December 2014, with Telstra and Vodafone securing AU$185 million in government funding to build or upgrade 499 mobile towers across Australia. Vodafone will build out 70 of these mobile towers.

Vodafone switched on its first cell tower at White Rock Wind Farm near Glen Innes, in the New England region of New South Wales, in December, and will also bring coverage to Manildra, Cargo, Molong, Elsmore, Invergowrie, White Rock Mountain, and Manna Mountain, NSW; Buckland, Bothwell, and Swansea, Tasmania; and Capricorn Highway and Cooyar, Queensland, by the end of July.

The government announced the second round of its mobile blackspot program in early December, providing a further AU$60 million to bring better telecommunications coverage to regional areas. Berroeta has since confirmed that Vodafone plans to participate in round 2 of the program.

Vodafone's push into regional telecommunications has seen it expand its 4G network nationwide by purchasing AU$68 million worth of 1800MHz spectrum and refarming its 850MHz spectrum band to bring coverage to regional and metropolitan Queensland, NSW, and the Australian Capital Territory; partner with the Regional Australia Institute and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on releasing a report on regional telecommunications based on a case study of Northern Inland, NSW, in April; push M2M as an answer for farmers in February; and partner with the National Farmers' Federation to develop an online platform for farmers as part of an effort to "digitally transform" the agriculture industry in December.

Vodafone's 4G network now covers 95.3 percent of the Australian population, or 23 million people, a 40 percent rise in network size over the past four years.