Coalition expects mobile telcos to match blackspot funds

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Coalition expects mobile telcos to match blackspot funds

Pot of funds offered to carriers, at a price.

The Coalition will stump up $100 million in public money to improve mobile phone coverage in Australia, as long as telcos chip in at least $100 million from their own pockets.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott estimated that the plan could fund as many as 250 towers.

Under the plan, an $80 million pot of money has been set aside to improve mobile coverage "along major transport routes, in small communities" and disaster-prone locations.

Mobile telcos will be able to apply for funds through a request for proposal process, the Coalition said.

"Preference will be given to proposals that provide open access infrastructure to improve coverage along major transport routes," it said in a policy document.

"Proposals will also be assessed against the amount of funding contributed by the mobile phone network provider and the expected economic and social benefits."

The program is modelled on a similar scheme in Western Australia, the Coalition said. It expects "at least an additional $80 million in investment from the major mobile phone carriers" in order to go ahead.

A further $20 million in public funds will be put into specific blackspot locations across Australia, such as towns that have "high seasonal demand". Again, the Coalition expects to fund up to 50 percent of the cost.

The Coalition isn't the first to go into an election campaign with a telecommunications blackspots pledge.

One of Labor's telecommunications successes was the $250 million Regional Backbone Blackspots Program that delivered backhaul competition into regional parts of Australia.

Optus vice president of corporate and regulatory affairs, David Epstein, welcomed the fund announcement, particularly its nod to open access arrangements.

However he also warned that it is "vital to ensure any allocation of Government funding is not used to expand any one network provider's footprint only".

NBN tower piggyback

The Coalition policy also wants to make it easier for mobile telcos to colocate commercial equipment on NBN wireless tower infrastructure.

It claims that Labor has "failed to ensure NBN worked with mobile carriers to take up opportunities to leverage off the NBN rollout and its infrastructure to expand their mobile telephone networks".

However, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) said in its report on Telstra's Warrnambool exchange fire that such arrangements already exist.

"NBN Co has entered into agreements with Telstra and Optus to share this [NBN fixed wireless] tower infrastructure," the DBCDE stated.

Questions filed by iTnews with NBN Co on the extent to which the offer had been taken up by commercial telcos went unanswered at the time.

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