$50m to fix phones, data

The state government has announced it will invest $50 million in a bid to fix phone and internet communications problems in regional NSW.

The Connecting Country Communities fund was a “first of its kind” investment, according to Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Parliamentary Secretary Bronnie Taylor.

The funding is open to applications from individuals and community groups and will be used to build and upgrade mobile base stations, connect businesses to global markets and schools with innovative learning resources and help small communities that are struggling with connectivity.

“For people living in regional and remote NSW, poor mobile and slow internet coverage are two of the biggest issues they face on a daily basis,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Whether you need to stay in touch with your family or run a business, if your internet isn’t fast or affordable, or your phone coverage isn’t up to speed it is simply crippling,” he said.

Isolated communities have found it increasingly tough to keep up because of limited or unreliable technology and they will be encouraged to nominate for a share of the fund.

Ms Taylor said the move to allocate state funds to a normally federal-funded issue was unprecedented but a sign of how serious the situation is.

“There is no other state in the country that is investing its own money separately from the federal government in tackling this issue. This is the first fund of its kind in Australia,” Ms Taylor said.

“Put simply this is a game-changer for the people of regional NSW.”

The funding is part of the NSW Government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund announced in the 2017/18 NSW Budget.

There has been a renewed commitment by governments to reduce mobile black spots and the NSW government committed $39 million in a co-investment with the Commonwealth Mobile Blackspots Program, supporting more than 174 towers under the program and delivering 36 new or upgraded mobile base stations in regional NSW since 2015.

Previous mobile black spot programs drew criticism from the Australian National Audit Office for funding towers that added little to coverage or increased competition in an existing area. 

A coalition formed to better champion telecommunication services in rural and regional Australia met the National Broadband Network (nbn) last week to discuss ways of improving broadband access in regional, rural and remote Australia.

The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) met with nbn members including chief executive Bill Morrow at the request of nbn.