Despite initial disappointment that no new funding of the Mobile Blackspots Program was announced in this year’s Federal Budget, on Sunday, June 10, the Government committed $25 million to go ahead with the fourth round.
A group of like-minded organisations who have come together to end the data drought and to champion better communications services for consumers and small businesses living in rural, remote or regional areas, have welcomed the announcement.
The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition is made up of 22 organisations and advocacy bodies to advocate for better communication in the bush.
National Farmers' Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said the Coalition believed the re-purposing of $25 million from existing programs would enable the fourth program to target those areas still in need of coverage.
“Despite initial disappointment that further funding was not available in this year’s Federal Budget, we are delighted that the Government has made this important announcement…,” Ms Simson said.
"We acknowledge that the Blackspots Program is of significant scale, however there remain areas of regional Australia that are still without mobile phone coverage, having missed out on funding from the program so far.
"To this end, any measure that seeks to further mobile coverage in the bush will always be welcomed by us."
Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said since the RRRCC was formed in 2016, the group had been conscious that Mobile Blackspots Program needed to evolve from its current framework as coverage expanded.
“Given the breadth of the RRRCC’s membership, we look forward to assisting Minister McKenzie to develop program guidelines for this round, that will ensure those regions and communities that are currently without it, get the coverage they deserve,” Ms Corbin said.
“Given the program is based on co-investment, we are also calling mobile network operators to buy into this process.
"This is a real opportunity to ensure the funding that was not accessed in the first rounds is put to good use. However, we cannot do this without a commitment from commercial operators as well," Ms Corbin said.
The competitive selection process for round 4 of the program is expected to commence in the second half of 2018.