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Turnbull pledges AU$60m for mobile blackspots round 3

The mobile blackspot program will have a third round under a Coalition government, with AU$60m being provided to address another 900 blackspots.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

A re-elected Coalition government would provide an additional AU$60 million to fund the third round of the mobile blackspot program to build or upgrade a further 900 mobile towers, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced.

"Today, we're announcing here at Anglesea the third round of the mobile phone blackspots program, AU$60 million," Turnbull said on Tuesday morning.

"The biggest complaint about telecommunications is 'my mobile phone wont work'. So we had our first round, when we committed AU$100 million and leveraged AU$380 million total expenditure for just under 500 new base stations, which addressed 3,000 out of 6,000 nominated blackspots.

"The second round, which Fiona [Nash] is residing over as the minister for regional telecommunications, is another AU$60 million previously announced. We expect that to address around 900 further blackspots.

"And this third round here we're announcing today, a third round of AU$60 million, which will bring the total commitment to AU$220 million, that is going to address another 900 blackspots."

Bringing the press conference back to the election campaign, both Turnbull and Nash emphasised that while Labor was in government, it "never spent a single cent on it".

"Mobile connectivity is a critical part of daily social and business interaction, and it is vital for personal safety," Turnbull and Nash said in a joint statement.

"Our program contrasts with the previous Labor government, which failed to allocate a single dollar of public money to address the problem."

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.

In total, Telstra will build out 429 cell towers, while Vodafone builds out 70, with the full rollout to be completed within three years.

Telstra is also looking to install 250 small cells across Australia in order to provide small towns with 4G services where Telstra infrastructure is available. Telstra itself has invested AU$165 million into the mobile blackspot program.

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.

"The Commonwealth government has committed AU$60 million to provide new or upgraded mobile coverage to black spots in regional and remote Australia under round 2 of the mobile blackspot program, and we're calling on members of the public to nominate blackspots in their local area," Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said at the time.

"This new funding is on top of the AU$100 million committed to round 1 of the program, which leveraged co-contributions from mobile operators, state and local governments, and third parties for a total funding envelope of AU$385 million."

The government will announce the successful locations of round 2 at the end of this year.

Telecommunications carrier Vodafone Australia, which earlier this month encouraged those living in 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, welcomed the announcement by Turnbull.

"We are very pleased the Coalition has listened to Australians in regional and rural areas by committing an additional AU$60 million in funding to the mobile blackspot program," said Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd.

"Unreliable mobile coverage and lack of competition is hurting regional and rural Australia. Businesses, farmers, and residents in these areas are missing out on the economic and social benefits of world-class, competitive mobile services enjoyed by those in the major cities.

"We are very supportive of the mobile blackspot program model, as it not only increases coverage where it is needed, but also competition, giving customers the opportunity to choose their provider and get a better deal.

"While the total funding of AU$220 million won't fix all of the mobile black spots in regional and rural Australia, it will start to address the mobile class divide which exists between these areas and the major cities. We would like to see whichever party wins the 2 July election commit to a permanent and expanded mobile blackspot program as soon as possible."

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