WA government launches AU$22m telco fund to improve infrastructure in rural areas

The State Agricultural Telecommunications Infrastructure Improvement Fund will be used for investment in telecommunications infrastructure and other technologies that will support agribusinesses in Western Australia.

The state government of Western Australia has established a AU$22 million telecommunications fund to improve infrastructure in rural and regional areas where often there is poor electrical and network connectivity, relatively small download allowances, and much higher costs and slower speeds than in metropolitan cities.

The State Agricultural Telecommunications Infrastructure Improvement Fund will be used for investment in the development of telecommunications infrastructure and other technologies in regional areas of Western Australia.

Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said investments in improved mobile and internet coverage, knowledge management systems, wireless technologies, and computer-aided or controlled devices will help drive the future economy of regional Western Australia.

"The ability of organisations and businesses to understand and fully participate in the environment in which they operate will ensure they optimise the success of their businesses and wider agricultural industry," Redman said.

Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis believes access to high-speed internet is a necessary precursor to future business improvement and productivity gains, and to re-establishing WA's competitiveness.

"Autonomous vehicles, variable rate technologies, real-time weather applications, and remote sensing are just a few of the opportunities which will open up to WA agriculture through blanket digital coverage of farming regions and enhanced download speeds," Lewis said.

Commerce Minister Michael Mischin said the improved connectivity will allow agribusinesses to develop a more "agile supply chain" through ecommerce and make use of applications readily available.

"It's not just about the phone reception now; it's the ability to send and receive data where farmers can manage their equipment, paddocks, and staff remotely," Mischin said.

The telecommunications fund is part of a wider AU$75 million Infrastructure Investment Fund for agriculture infrastructure across regional WA, through the Royalties for Regions AU$350 million Seizing the Opportunity Agriculture initiative.

In 2015, the University of New England (UNE) began to digitally transform a 2,900 hectare commercial farm called Kirby-Newholme into a "smart farm" thanks to access to the National Broadband Network fixed wireless service. The NBN has allowed the soil, light, and weather sensors fitted throughout the Kirby farm to send a continuous stream of data to a remote cloud-based computing and analytics service.

NBN launched the first of its two AU$620 million Ka-band satellites, named Sky Muster, in October 2015, with commercial services becoming available in April 2016 to provide broadband via the projection of 101 spot beams for those not living within the fibre, hybrid fibre-coaxial, and fixed-wireless NBN network footprint.