Budget boosts bush comms but ups mobile carrier fees

Regional telecommunications scored well in the Government's 2001 Budget, but a hike in the mobile carrier GSM licence fee is tipped to result in higher mobile phone charges for users.

As expected, the Federal Government announced it would get an extra $32.1 million each year for the next four years from higher mobile licence fees.

The increase will mean Telstra, Optus and Vodafone will pay up to $17.9 million a year for spectrum for the GSM network from June this year, some two and a half times higher than the previous $7 million.

The shortfall in the recent third-generation (3G) mobile spectrum auction, which raised $1.3 billion, or only half of the Government's predicted $2.6 billion, and the cancellation of the datacasting auction due to lack of interest, may have made some contribution to this rise.

Telecommunication analyst Paul Budde said the shortfall in revenue would result in the telecommunications industry being "punished" and this will "automatically result in higher end user prices".

The sale of Telstra also reared its head again, with the sell-off of the rest of the Commonwealth's 50.1 per cent stake delayed until after July 2003.

The $163.1 million (over four years) earmarked for regional telecommunications includes funds to improve mobile and Internet coverage and poor phone line connections in remote areas.

Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston said: "The response to the recommendations and finding in the TSI (Telecommunications Service Inquiry) report forms the next step in the government's blueprint for improving telecommunications infrastructure and services and to ensure that all Australians have access to adequate telecommunications services."

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