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Australian opposition promises AU$100m to fix mobile blackspots

The federal opposition has promised to spend AU$100 million to subsidise the rollout of mobile network infrastructure to improve coverage in regional Australia should it win the upcoming election.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The federal opposition has promised AU$100 million in funding to subsidise expansions of Australia's mobile networks to improve mobile coverage in regional and remote areas.

As part of the party's bid to win the federal election in September, the Coalition's regional communications spokesperson Luke Hartsuyker announced that the Coalition would invest AU$80 million in a mobile network expansion program to improve mobile coverage along transport routes, regional cities, and places prone to natural disasters.

Another AU$20 million would be dedicated to a mobile black spot program looking at places with high seasonal demand.

"This program will allow telecommunication carriers and communities to apply for funds to fix specific black spots. A Coalition government will fund up to 50 percent of the cost of deploying mobile black-spot solutions, and will seek to maximise the contribution of mobile phone network providers," Hartsuyker said in a statement.

"The Coalition will also work with the NBN, a company fully owned by Australian taxpayers, to co-locate new mobile phone base stations with many of the NBN's fixed wireless broadband towers that are being rolled out across regional Australia. This use of NBN infrastructure will further reduce costs for carriers," Hartsuyker said.

The Coalition's policy to share NBN tower infrastructure is already something that NBN Co does. Telstra and Optus have entered into agreements with NBN Co to share mobile tower infrastructure, and Vodafone is exploring the possibility of joining in.

Communications Minister Anthony Albanese said that the last time the Coalition was in government, regional Australia was left behind.

"While I welcome Tony Abbott and the Coalition's belated interest in regional communities, it's a pity they couldn't be bothered 'fixing' the issue the last time they were in government, despite having 12 years to do so," he said in a statement.

"Now they expect us to believe that given a second chance, they will do the job right. They must think we're all mugs. When the Coalition was last in government, they abandoned regional Australia when they privatised Telstra."

Regional Communications Minister Sharon Bird said that the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout will see hundreds of towers installed in regional, remote, and outer metropolitan Australia for fixed-wireless services, and the mobile operators would have access to that infrastructure.

"This approach allows better mobile coverage for customers and more choice for people in rural and regional areas," she said.

The announcement was welcomed by the Competitive Carriers' Coalition, but it said that open access to infrastructure should be mandatory, and the program should also address backhaul issues in regional and remote areas.

"The cost of elements such as long-haul backhaul into regional areas is a crucial element that must be addressed if competition is going to have a real chance of gaining a foothold in regional mobile telecommunications," a spokesperson said.

"The cost of backhaul is unfinished business and requires further action from the ACCC, but identifying and utilising competitive infrastructure to break monopolies and bottlenecks would be a very welcome initiative."

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