A mobile ‘bill’ of $60m a year

Towers: Base stations funded under round 2 of the mobile blackspots program. Inset: The mobile black spot locations reported to mobile network operators to assist them to prepare their funding proposals for round 2.
Towers: Base stations funded under round 2 of the mobile blackspots program. Inset: The mobile black spot locations reported to mobile network operators to assist them to prepare their funding proposals for round 2.

The group championing improved mobile and data coverage in rural and regional areas is calling for a federal government commitment to spend $60 million a year on the Mobile Black Spot Program or an equivalent.

Member of the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) and chief executive of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network Teresa Corbin said more funding was needed to meet the demand for mobile coverage in rural and regional areas.

The government recently released the indicative roll-out schedule for Round 2 of the Mobile Black Spots Program. There were 39 new and upgraded towers for NSW and 266 nationwide. It committed $60 million “leveraging a total investment of $213 million”.

Locations for towers for Round 3 of the progam have not been finalised. The government will not fund future rounds of the program until telcos finish building towers under the three rounds.

Ms Corbin said last week: “The RRRCC is calling for a commitment from the government to spend $60 million per year on the Mobile Black Spot Program (or an equivalent program).”

“We have stated that the program should prioritise community identified areas and open access facilities so that the towers built can be used by all mobile network providers.

“The program should also have more flexible terms and conditions to address areas where co-investment from mobile network providers is not achievable.”

She said one benefit would be to ensure better access to 000 services during emergencies such as bush fires.

“Extended mobile coverage along roads in rural and regional areas would make these safer when accidents happen.”

“In general, rural and regional consumers rely on mobile services to keep in touch with friends and family, to run small businesses and more. Some consumers in these areas also rely on mobile networks to access internet services, as well as mobile phone services.”

Ms Corbin said if mobile coverage is poor, then people can effectively be cut off from the outside world.

“This is especially true in areas where fixed line phone services and satellite internet services are also unreliable.” 

She said with more than 10,000 mobile black spot locations nominated in the Mobile Black Spot Database, coverage is a huge issue.

“The Mobile Black Spot Program will provide new or improved coverage to some areas across the country, however, demand for coverage far outstrips the supply of funding,” she said.

“We believe this is an ongoing issue that consumers will face in rural and regional areas. That’s why securing ongoing funding for mobile coverage expansion is an area of focus for the RRRCC.”