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.
The Australian government has opened up round four of its mobile blackspots program for applications, with the Coalition emphasising natural disaster-prone areas to gain access to more reliable network coverage. According to Minister for Regional Services Bridget McKenzie, the government will also be looking to increase mobile coverage for farmers and regional businesses under the AU$25 million fourth round of the program. "Round 4 will include public interest premises (PIPs)," the Department of Communications said on Monday, with operators now able to apply for a slice of the funding until December 10. "PIPs include economic centres, emergency service facilities, local government facilities, health and educational facilities, indigenous community organisations, and not-for-profit organisations." McKenzie said the mobile blackspots program has so far generated more than AU$680 million in new mobile infrastructure investment across the nation. "I urge mobile network operators and infrastructure providers to apply and encourage all levels of government, community organisations and businesses to get on board," McKenzie said.
Australia's two largest mobile telcos are set to build more than 100 new mobile sites each in the AU$60 million second round of the federal government's mobile blackspot program. Absent from the previous AU$185 million round, Optus said on Thursday it would be building 114 new sites, and is set to outlay AU$36.4 million as a co-investment after gaining AU$26.4 million in federal and state government funding. "Real investment in regional and remote telecommunications services is the only sustainable way to improve competition, and strength and breadth of coverage in regional Australia," Optus vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs David Epstein said. "Optus has embarked on an extensive regional network investment program and today's Mobile Black Spots announcement will supplement additional investment in regional telecommunications." "In the last financial year we invested close to AU$1.6 billion in strengthening networks."
Vodafone Australia has announced an investment of over AU 9 million to be spent on constructing 32 new mobile base stations across the country to improve telecommunications coverage in regional areas. The funding is separate to the federal government's mobile blackspot program, under the first round of which Vodafone is building out 70 base stations in remote areas. "Vodafone is committed to increasing coverage and choice for customers in regional Australia, and we've identified 32 sites which will build on our growth in areas outside the major metropolitan centres," Vodafone Australia CTO Benoit Hanssen said. "Many customers living in regional and rural Australia don't have access to reliable coverage, choice of provider, or both, and we're determined to drive change." The base stations will be built in Coffs Harbour Park Beach, Coffs Harbour CBD, Coffs Harbour West, Toormina, Coffs Harbour Industrial, Coffs Harbour Jetty, Coffs Harbour North, Tamworth showgrounds, South Tamworth, West Tamworth, Taminda, Tamworth Golden Guitar, Berrigan, Yeoval, Cudal, Tallimba North, Rushes Creek, Bendemeer, and Kootingal, New South Wales; Bundaberg East, Bundaberg North, Svensson Heights, Bargara, Elliots Heads, Burnett Heads, and Drillham, Queensland; Carrabin and Burracoppin, Western Australia; and Myrtle Bank, Scottsdale, Campania, and Ouse, Tasmania.
Australia's Labor party is calling for a "fresh approach" to the mobile blackspots program, saying the federal government must use its Budget next week to take a step away from using the program to "meet political priorities rather than community needs". "The blatant politicisation of the program has led many states to abandon the program and resulting in an underspend of AU$14 million for that rounds," Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones said on Friday. "The Coalition allocated AU$60 million towards its priority locations round but only spent AU$45.6 million to address 102 mobile blackspots. An opportunity to fund an additional 20 mobile blackspots with this AU$14 million underspend was missed because of the exclusive focus on electoral politics." Pointing to what he labelled a "scathing" report from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) on the mobile blackspots program as well as Victoria's abandonment of the program and criticisms by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Jones said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government "must use this Tuesday's Budget to reform the mobile blackspots program".