Telcos back blackspot funding

Telcos have welcomed election pledges by the Coalition and the opposition that will see an additional $60 million allocated to the mobile blackspot program.

The program is intended to boost mobile reception in outer metropolitan and and regional areas.

The government last year allocated funding from the $100 million first round to Telstra and Vodafone. The first round funded 499 new or upgraded mobile base stations. A second round of the program is currently underway, with up to $60 million available for telcos to help co-fund projects.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the federal minister for regional communications, Fiona Nash, today announced the promise of additional funding, which would cover locations that didn’t receive funding in the first two rounds of the program as well as areas that have been overlooked by telcos because they are not commercially viable.

Labor's communications spokesperson Jason Clare later said the opposition would match the funding pledge, adding that that the government has “overpromised and under delivered” on the program.

“Of the 499 mobile towers funded in Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme, as of 4 May 2016 only 21 had been switched on. Of the 499, 416 are in Liberal and Nationals’ electorates,” Clare said.

“There have also been some glaring omissions. There are locations that should have been funded but were not. For example – the electorate of McEwen, one of the most fire-prone in the country. Over the last six summers, there have been six major disasters, including the Black Saturday fires in 2009.”

“Under Labor in six years of government, not one cent was spent on mobile phone black spots. Zero,” Turnbull said today during a doorstop interview. “That just shows the disregard that the Labor Party has for the regions.”

Vodafone endorsed the commitment of additional funding and called for bipartisan backing for a “permanent and expanded” blackspot program.

“We are very supportive of the Mobile Black Spot Programme 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,” said the telco’s chief strategy officer, Dan Lloyd.

“While the total funding of $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.”

The blackspot program offers “great opportunities to bring mobile coverage to people and communities who currently have none,” a Telstra spokesperson said.

“We are rolling out mobile base stations to 429 black spots under Round 1 of the Programme, and we have already delivered new and improved mobile coverage to a number of communities in just a few months,” the spokesperson for the telco said.

“We welcome any further opportunities to connect more Australians.”

Optus, which is yet to receive any funding from the program, said it welcomed the announcement.

“Optus is committed to communications for all Australians and continues to expand its mobile network by investing in 4G services across Australia,” a spokesperson said.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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