The government is seeking feedback on its plans to improve regional digital connectivity to fill the gaps left by the rollout of the National Broadband Network.
The Regional Connectivity Program is one part of the Coalition’s $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package which was launched in response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review.
Through the package, the government will be offering up to $53 million in grant funding, and has now opened consultations on where this money is most needed.
In a joint statement, Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher and Minister for Regional Services Mark Coulton said that the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the Universal Services Guarantee has provided a “base level of telecommunications services across Australia” but some “bespoke, place-based solutions” are still needed in some areas.
“Fast and reliable telecommunications are vital for people living in the bush as they need the connections to go about almost every aspect of their lives,” the ministers said.
“The Regional Connectivity Program will take a place-based approach, targeting investment in local priorities to maximise economic opportunities and region-wide benefits for regional, rural and remote Australian.
“The program includes a competitive grants process in which applicants can propose different technologies to improve telecommunications services in the regions.”
The program will be using targeted strategic investment to improve access to mobile and broadband services in areas such as “high-value agricultural and tourism locations as well as the resources sector”.
The funding will go towards a competitive grants program, digital technology hub, alternate voice service trials in remote areas and the further development of the Universal Services Guarantee.
The government has released a discussion paper focusing specifically on the grants that will be on offer, with the other elements of the program to be sorted out through a procurement process.
The grants will go towards licenced telecommunications carriers, and applicants will need to show evidence that the project is a priority for the local area, has financial co-contributors, is not currently or foreseeably being provided in the area and will be provided for at least 10 years.
The Regional Connectivity Program will complement the NBN, Mobile Black Spot Program and the telecommunications industry’s commercial investment plans, the government said.
The Stronger Regional Connectivity Package, included in this year’s federal budget, includes $160 million for two more rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program, which will see more than 1000 new base stations being established around the country.
Consultation on the Regional Connectivity Program will be running for the next four weeks, and submissions can be made here.