Interview with Matt Stephens, ABC Riverland

MATT STEPHENS, HOST: The Federal Government has opened applications to improve regional telecommunications through its Mobile Black Spot and Regional Connectivity programs. Michelle Rowland is the Federal Minister for Communications. Minister, good morning.


STEPHENS: There had been some doubt as to whether the Black Spot program would return. Why has it?

ROWLAND: I think it's really important to recognise that no matter where you live and – as your listeners very clearly articulated – access to world class communications, infrastructure and services is so vital. And that includes mobile services and broadband services, and it includes in regional and rural areas as well. So good, reliable connectivity serves so many purposes, helping us stay in touch, to run businesses efficiently and also to stay connected during emergencies.

We recognise how important this is, which is why this Government is providing more than $1.1 billion to rural and regional communities. And that includes $150 million which was just announced as part of a combined funding stream on Monday. Applications have opened for that Mobile Black Spot and Regional Connectivity round. This can be place-based broadband services or improved mobile services. And I do encourage your listeners to get involved in this process. Applications are now open. They can go to the Department of Communications Notice Board, if they search that up . You can see we're in the pre-application phase. So local residents, businesses, and I do encourage local councils as well, to have a look at that because this is how the carriers make those applications and this is how we get better results for local residents and businesses.

STEPHENS: So will the program work as it has in the past?

ROWLAND: It will be an applications-based round, so it means that the carriers will apply. There are some differences and we've made improvements to guidelines around this. For example, previously, it was up to about a 50 per cent Federal Government contribution. We've increased that to 75 per cent to give that extra incentive to the carriers to participate and we're also giving extra impetus to multi-carrier coverage. Under previous rounds, only some 8 per cent of new towers delivered multi-carrier coverage and many of your listeners will know that, depending on what network you’re on, it's a patchwork of whether or not your service will work in different areas. We're giving extra credit to multi-carrier coverage to, again, hopefully incentivise the carriers to get improvements, irrespective of what network people might be on.

STEPHENS: Michelle Rowland is the Federal Minister for Communications. The Mobile Black Spot Program has been around for a very long time and, yes, has delivered a lot of service to regional areas, but there's still vast areas that aren't covered by any mobile service at all. So why will it be any different now to what we've seen in the past?

ROWLAND: I think it's important to note that this is a co-contribution model, and you would think, and your listeners would very rightly think, that it's in the interests of the mobile providers to increase the number of people who are able to utilise their networks. There's nothing more frustrating than having a mobile service that you can't use at any given time. But in some of those areas, the carriers, which of course, are commercial operations, need something extra to make that business case. And again, by having councils involved, in some cases, it's the acquisition of sites for towers that's often the most problematic. Council, being landowners in a lot of these rural and regional areas, really have an important role to play. I think the important – probably one of the most important aspects of this program – that it brings together different partnerships to help solve this problem of connectivity. It's only by working together and by having that incentive through Commonwealth funding that we get results in this area. And again, I would encourage the listeners, if they are interested, to go to that Department of Communications Notice Board, because the guidelines make it very clear that depending on the level of support for a particular area, that counts really well towards a site being eligible.

STEPHENS: All right, Michelle Rowland will leave it there. Thank you very much for your time.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.