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Improving regional mobile phone infrastructure report published

Beef Central, 15/11/2023

Finding collaborative ways to fund improvements and encourage greater sharing of mobile phone infrastructure to provide better, more competitive access to digital services across regional and remote Australia is the focus of a report Connecting the country: Mission critical released today by the House Communications and the Arts Committee.

The parliamentary inquiry into co-investment in regional mobile carrier infrastructure heard a wide range of evidence from state and territory governments, Indigenous communities and First Nations media, business chambers, councils, health services, mine companies, tourism operators, farmers and agri-business, fire, police and emergency services and community groups on how essential mobile coverage is, and how detrimental a lack of coverage can be for day to day life and operations. The Committee also heard how perilous these mobile black spots can be during emergencies, police operations or road accidents in regional areas.

Recommendations made by the Committee focussed on how the Australian Government can encourage more co-investment by mobile network operators and sharing of mobile towers to address the challenges of improving coverage and competition across Australia’s wide expanse, including:

  • developing and implementation of a practical universal service obligation for mobile telecommunications service providers;
  • facilitating roundtable meetings between NBN Co and mobile telecommunications industry representatives with Rewiring the Nation program planners to ascertain the potential to co-locate telecommunications infrastructure along renewable electricity transmission routes planned for regional and remote Australia;
  • establishing a working group involving state and territory governments, emergency services agencies, and mobile network operators to develop protocols for temporary roaming arrangements in declared disasters and emergencies;
  • reviewing the implications of non-use and area-wide licensing for the allocation, management, and use of spectrum for the provision of regional telecommunications services;
  • assessing the merits of including licence conditions on mobile network owners and other spectrum licensees of terms and conditions that mandate open access and active sharing solutions;
  • evaluating the objectives and guidelines of the Mobile Black Spot Program to ensure it remains fit for purpose;
  • establishing a trial program to fund mobile-carrier infrastructure in specific regional and remote geographical areas with a mandate for open access through active or passive sharing to any funded infrastructure;
  • developing a trial program to fund infrastructure to support multi-carrier mobile network sharing models at locations on major roads in regional and remote areas with limited or no network coverage;
  • leading development of a Regional Australia Mobile Telecommunications Strategy in consultation with state, territory and local governments to consider the trends and demands of regional growth and identify regions and growth corridors;
  • facilitating the harmonisation of planning and environmental regulations for new mobile infrastructure across regional, rural and remote Australia;
  • investigating and funding targeted, place-based solutions for providing reliable and secure access to telecommunications services in remote Indigenous communities, including, but not limited to:
    • deployment of wi-fi mesh networks or wi-fi hotspots, and
    • use of Low Earth Orbit satellite services.

Committee Chair, Mr Brian Mitchell MP, outlined the majority of mobile infrastructure was not co-located, especially in regional areas, despite many years of significant government investment.

‘The Committee held hearings and roundtables to better understand why the rates of co-location for Australia’s major mobile providers dramatically declines as they move from urban to more regional and remote areas,’ Mr Mitchell said.

‘The Committee believes promoting co-investment remains a tool to encourage multiple telecommunications providers to invest in and share ‘multi-carrier’ mobile towers to improve the range and reliability of their services in regional and remote areas. But in this increasingly digital age it is important the Government continue to develop alternative strategies to attract mobile network operators and tower companies to invest in assisting the many people living in regional, remote and even fast-growing peri-urban areas without any or poor access to phone and digital services.’

Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee held 17 public hearings in Canberra, Launceston, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Perth, Sydney and Geelong, in addition to receiving 43 written submissions from individuals, organisations and government bodies.

The Committee would like to thank all those who took part in the inquiry by providing written submissions and giving evidence at public hearings or roundtables.

The full report may be found on the Committee’s webpage.

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