The government has officially launched the fourth round of its Mobile Black Spot Program. Under the program, up to $25 million is available to help telcos co-fund mobile coverage in under-served areas.
During the first three rounds of the program, which was launched in June 2015, 867 base stations were funded.
The guidelines state that, as was the case with previous rounds, “applicants are encouraged to seek financial co-contributions from State, Territory or local governments, local communities and/or other third parties.”
In addition to boosting mobile coverage and competition in regional and remote areas, the fourth round also seeks to improve voice and data connectivity at ‘public interest premises’.
Public interest premises can include an “economic centre” (which can be a a tourist site, a park or wildlife facility, a local business centre, or an industrial precinct), an emergency services, health or educational facility, an indigenous community organisation, a local government facility, or a not-for-profit organisation.
“This milestone reaffirms this government’s commitment to delivering 21st century communications for our regions,” regional services minister Senator Bridget McKenzie said in a statement.
“It’s fantastic to see that our program has already helped improve the lives of so many. Mobile coverage is no longer just nice to have – it’s essential. People in regional areas should not be left behind.”
Funding allocation under the black spot program has been a source of controversy, including an Australian National Audit Office investigation that found the first round of the program “resulted in substantial consolidation of existing coverage provided by grant applicants, as opposed to extending coverage in new areas”.
The government says that the program has so far delivered in excess of $680 million of new investment in mobile infrastructure, with contributions from state and local governments, telcos, businesses and communities.
Applications for the program’s fourth round close on 10 December.