Bush connectivity pitch

Mobile Black Spot Program and Regional Connectivity Program announced


Mobile Black Spot Program and Regional Connectivity Program announced


The federal government is perhaps hoping for a pre-election boost from its latest regional telecommunications policy, which includes $160 million continuation of funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program, and $60m for a new Regional Connectivity Program.

Described as a response to the recent Regional Telecommunications Independent Review, the Government said it will establish a $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package. 

Deputy Nationals Leader and Regional Services Minister Bridget McKenzie said technological change is relentless and regional areas must keep pace.

"If we get this right, the potential of the regions, and therefore our nation, is immense," Senator McKenzie said.

Is it enough?

Labor's regional development spokesman Stephen Jones said the Coalition's policy wouldn't fix significant connectivity problems in the bush.

"This announcement won't touch the sides. It's a plan to get them (the government) to the next election, not deal with the real problems," Mr Jones said.

Senator McKenzie said in this round the Mobile Black Spot Program would focus on ​mobile coverage for regional community facilities such as hospitals, schools as well as business hubs.

"With the growth in demand for data and the movement of essential government and industry services online, the timing for this new investment is now," Senator McKenzie said.

Announcing the policy, Senator McKenzie said the pre-budget commitment totalled $220m, a figure in-line with the previous program, however unlike the previous fund, only $160m  would be directed to fund rounds five and six of the Mobile Black Spot Program, while the remaining $60m will be committed to a new Regional Connectivity Program.


While the Regional Connectivity Program was formed in response to last year's Regional Telecommunications Independent Review, the government has not yet provided a strategic plan behind the spend, except to say it would be targeted at areas predominately serviced by the nbn SkyMuster satellite service and locations would be selected by the government through a competitive tender process, targeting areas of economic, social and public safety need.

Bush advocacy group, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remove Australia (BIRRR), co-founder, Kristy Sparrow said she believed the Regional Connectivity Program would be developed through a consultation process. 

"It think it is going to be place specific, not a one size fits all approach," she said.

"There will be be infrastructure upgrades, but what that looks like will be up to consultation and it may be different in Alpha compared to Albury, or somewhere else faced with unique challenges around their telecommunications, some areas have unique terrain, other areas have backhaul constraints."

Projects funded by the program could include business grade broadband networks, network transmission upgrades, fixed and mobile wireless projects, or upgrades to National Broadband Network access technologies.

Ms Sparrow said she commended both the Minister for Regional Services, Bridget McKenzie, and the Federal Government for listening to regional advocates.

"Improvements in connectivity and digital literacy will result, not just in improvements in agriculture, exports, economy, health and education, but also help create social change and equitable services for people living in rural and remote areas," she said.

"We appreciate being offered a seat at the table and are happy that the current Government and communications stakeholders are listening, and responding, to our concerns.

Ms Sparrow said she particularly appreciated Senator McKenzie visiting remote areas to speak one-on-one with those affected. 

"Its important to experience the issues on the ground and to listen to our concerns." 

Digital Hub

Along with infrastructure programs, the $60m commitment includes provision for a "Digital Tech Hub" aimed at increasing digital literacy in rural areas.

Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee (RTIRC) member and BIRRR co-founder, Kylie Stretton said the hub would address some of the significant concerns raised by the review.

"It was very clear during the RTIRC consultations that telecommunications were difficult to navigate for rural, regional and remote communities, and that the 'tech hub' has the potential to achieve such positive outcomes for these communities," Mrs Stretton said.

'Stuffed Up'

While industry advocacy groups have welcomed the announcement, Labour spokesperson, Mr Jones said the Regional Connectivity Program was an inadequate government response to ailing services.

"Wireless NBN towers are increasingly congested and the satellite system is underperforming, so on the eve of the election they're throwing money at problems of their own making," Mr Jones said.

"It's an acknowledgement they've stuffed up the rollout of the NBN and also the 5G spectrum auction, which are causing a data drought in the regions without fixed-line connections."

Mr Jones conceded Labor had not yet released its regional telecommunications policy, and praised the findings of the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review.

The story Bush connectivity pitch first appeared on Farm Online.


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