Election 2016: Battlelines drawn over rural mobile coverage

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The Coalition has pledged an extra $60 million to improve mobile phone coverage in the rural areas, Labor says it will match this and manage the roll out better. The Coalition has pledged an extra $60 million to improve mobile phone coverage in the rural areas, Labor says it will match this and manage the roll out better. The Coalition has pledged an extra $60 million to improve mobile phone coverage in the rural areas, Labor says it will match this and manage the roll out better.

The lack of mobile phone coverage in regional Australia is shaping up to be a hot election issue, and both major parties have now announced their respective policies to tackle the problem.


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The Coalition has pledged an additional $60 million for the Mobile Black Spot Programme, as has Labor, ahead of the election on July 2.

While the National Federated Farmers (NFF) welcomed the commitment from both parties, it believes a longer-term investment is required to address connectivity issues once and for all.

"We know agriculture can be Australia’s next $100 billion industry and that we have opportunities before us that have rarely before been seen by the sector," NFF President Brent Finlay says.

"But we must have the infrastructure and tools necessary to act on this opportunity so that we can continue to lead the world in our field and be one of the foremost contributors to the Australian economy."

There are still too many barriers that prevent farmers from adopting the latest technology and innovative farming practices that would allow the sector to perform to the best of its ability, according to the NFF.

"This election the NFF is focusing its efforts on highlighting to all parties and political candidates that much more must be done to improve data and mobile connectivity in the regions so that antiquated technology does not stand in the way of the farm sector’s performance," Finlay says.

"Without adequate connectivity, farmers simply cannot adopt practices such as farm equipment automation, spatially-enabled agriculture and big data supported decision tools to enhance production efficiency."

Federal minister for regional communications Fiona Nash is confident that the coalition’s $60 million investment will help give regional Australians much better coverage.

"We recognise the importance of mobile coverage for people in regional and remote Australia," she says.

"Mobile connectivity is a critical part of daily social and business interaction and it is vital for personal safety.

"This is as true for people living in remote regions as it is in cities."

The new investment will bring the coalition’s total investment in eliminating mobile black spots to $220 million.

The Mobile Black Spot Programme promises to see 499 mobile base stations erected or upgraded around the country, which Nash says will cover half of the 6000 reported black spots, and provide additional mobile coverage to an area equivalent to the size of Tasmania.

"The extra funding will cover black spot locations that have been overlooked by mobile network operators because they are uncommercial," Nash says.

"This new commitment will improve mobile coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters.

"Eliminating mobile back spot locations will unlock opportunities for farmers and businesses previously impacted by little or no mobile connectivity."

Federal shadow minister for communications Jason Clare says Labor will match the Coalition’s commitment and ensure funding is better-targeted.

"Labor supports action to reduce mobile blackspots, but like the Turnbull Government’s promise to deliver the NBN, the Mobile Black Spot Programme has over-promised and under-delivered," Clare says.

"Of the 499 mobile towers funded in Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spot Programme, as of 4 May 2016 only 21 had been switched on.

"Of the 499, 416 are in Liberal and Nationals electorates."

There are also locations that, according to Clare, should have been funded but were not, such as the electorate of McEwen in Victoria — which has a high occurrence of bush fires.

"There are 95 blackspots that have been identified in the electorate of McEwen but the area received just two of the 499 funded towers from round one of the Mobile Black Spots Programme," Clare says.

 

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