The Federal Government has defended its failure to find any new
money in the budget to fix mobile phone blackspots or boost
Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and
Regional Communications Fiona Nash said 765 new mobile phone
towers would be rolled out under a $220 million initiative,
with a firm commitment for another $60 million to be spent on
round three once they are finished.
“People have raised that there wasn’t extra funding in this
budget … quite simply, it’ll take a couple of years to get
rounds one and two and the ‘priority locations’ round [of
towers] out on the ground and those resources simply aren’t
there,” she said.
“We wouldn’t see a new tower even if we’d had funding in this
budget for at least a couple of years.”
There had been a chorus of rural and regional voices in the
lead-up to Tuesday night’s budget announcement demanding better
internet services, but Ms Nash said the current national
broadband network (NBN) rollout program was on track to be
completed by 2020.
She said NBN Co had acknowledged its SkyMuster service was not
to the standard it should have been but its performance had
improved markedly since its launch in September last year.
She cited recent NBN survey results which showed 91 per cent
fewer outages compared to September last year and satisfaction
with installations had risen to 80 per cent.
“Most people I talk to are happy with their service,” Ms Nash
“But it seems around 5 per cent of people are hitting their
data caps and that’s something I’ve been talking to the NBN Co
board about and they’ve been very open to looking at how we can
provide more data to SkyMuster users right across the board,”
Ms Nash said.
Data drought pushes small schools, rural families to ‘breaking’
But not all internet users are convinced the situation has
improved or that it will ever match the data and download
speeds available to the majority of Australians.
Susanne Scott lives less than one hour from the capital city,
Brisbane, and said she was still waiting for the NBN to be
rolled out and has been told it might never happen.
Ms Scott said she was worried her children and grandchildren
were being ‘left behind’ in the digital age because of the
Government’s failure to provide affordable, accessible internet
“Why is it that they’re allowing people in the city to have
unlimited downloads and yet we are limited to eight
gigabytes?” Ms Scott told the Queensland Country Hour.
The Isolated Children’s Parents Association (ICPA) joined a
coalition of rural and remote farming and community lobby
groups in recent months to lobby federal politicians to fix
bush internet and extend the mobile phone blackspot program.
Vice-president Tammie Irons said rural communities and small
schools were at “breaking point” trying to keep up in a modern
age where digital connectivity was assumed and taken for
granted by most people.
In Queensland, the Curriculum to Classroom (C2C) initiative
relied on internet-based delivery to distance education and
home schools as well as professional development for teachers
and specific learning programs for gifted and talented
“It’s not even just about kids doing distance education; it
comes into attracting teachers to our communities,” she said.
“People need to be able to feel comfortable, safe and have a
right to what is almost a basic service and without this, our
rural and remote communities are breaking and it’s a real
struggle to keep them vibrant and sustainable.
“I’m not really fazed [how it is funded] as long as we get what
we need for our kids. We really just need to concentrate on the
funding wherever we can get it.”
Ms Irons said she remained hopeful the Federal Government would
commit to a third round of mobile phone blackspot funding
despite it being overlooked in the budget papers.
“Our federal body is wading through the ins and outs of the
budget; however, we are encouraged there will be further
funding and that this funding will actually go right out into
the places where it needs to go, hopefully prioritising those
schools which have no other reliable source of internet.”
In terms of the Federal Government’s Gonski 2.0 schools funding
plan, the ICPA has welcomed the overall approach, particularly
the potential for additional support for students with a
disability and smaller, rural and remote schools.