The WA Government is to provide $39.2 million in first phase funding to encourage the private sector to build and maintain mobile communications services in regional and remote areas of the state.
The initiative, termed the Regional Mobile Communications Project (RMCP), is geared at investing in new telecommunications network infrastructure to expand terrestrial mobile, voice, and high-speed wireless data broadband to improve highway and town-to-town coverage in regional, rural and remote communities. The government first flagged the project in September last year, with the government's Royalties for Regions fund expected to deliver part of the total $120 million funding to cover mobile blackspots.
“The RMCP aims to provide regional and remote communities and businesses in Western Australia access to a self-sustainable, affordable mobile wireless broadband service along major transport corridors similar to that enjoyed in major cities and town centres,” WA government documents on the project read.
According to the state’s government, the level of mobile coverage and broadband internet availability in regional WA is low, with the majority of under-serviced areas lying in the Pilbara, Mid-West Gascoyne, Kimberley, Wheatbelt and Goldfields-Esperance Regions of Western Australia and isolated pockets in the Peel, Great Southern and South West regions.
Citing 2006 National Economics and Australian Local Government Association research, the WA Government argues the economic cost of sustained inferior internet access in regional areas is significant.
“The annual cost to the economy (expressed as Value Added Impact) of sustained inferior internet access is over $637 million and a potential 4,781 direct and indirect employment opportunities for regional Western Australia,” the documents read.
“A conservative estimate based on four of the eight regions targeted by RMCP (Pilbara, Kimberley, Gascoyne and Goldfields) indicates a potential value-added impact of over $397 million and 1,868 direct and indirect employment opportunities.”
By equalising the differential in availability and speed of broadband services between metropolitan and regional areas, and facilitating improved network service delivery, the RMCP would contribute directly towards reducing the potential loss in economic gains, the government argues.
Funding for the RMCP initiative comes from the state’s Royalties for Regions Act 2009, which requires the Treasurer to credit to the Royalties for Regions Fund an amount equal to 25 per cent of the forecast royalty income each financial year.
Further funding — $35 million for phase 2 and $45 million for phase 3 to further build out the network — is being considered by the WA Government but is yet to be secured.
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