The Victorian government has opened the second stage of its Connecting Victoria mobile program, with $230 million on the table for telcos to improve 4G and 5G coverage in under-served regions.
The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions on Tuesday began accepting proposals for the grant funding, which it plans to “fully commit” before the end of the 2021-22 financial year.
The Connecting Victoria program aims to improve mobile coverage and digital inclusion, particularly in outer suburban Melbourne and regional areas, by co-funding new and upgraded infrastructure.
It was funded to the tune of $550 million in the 2020 state budget, with funding to be shared with Gigabit State, a similar program aimed at delivering business-grade broadband to businesses and households.
Stage one of the Connecting Victoria program has already made $30 million available to telcos to improve 4G and 5G coverage in areas with high economic uplift potential, according to the department.
Tender documents show funding will be allocated to mobile network operators and mobile network infrastructure providers that offer solutions that address three strategic themes: essential coverage, 4G enabled/5G fast-forward and locations of strategic importance.
The majority of funding (75 to 85 percent) will be allocated to the 4G enabled/5G fast-forward theme, which aims to deliver “robust handheld 4G and 5G coverage with high data speeds”.
Essential coverage, meanwhile, will provide at least 4G coverage “where there is little or no existing mobile coverage for any mobile network operators”, while locations of strategic importance have been designated by the department.
All proposals – which can be greenfields, brownfields or an upgrade – are expected to assist in the “delivery of new or improved mobile coverage to consumers, with services operational for at least 10 years”.
Gigabit State, which is co-funding the construction of new or upgraded infrastructure for business-grade broadband using $250 million in funds from the Connecting Victoria program, also began accepting applications on Tuesday.
The department is offering $35 million from the $228 million in available grant funding under the request for proposal (RFP), which has identified 131 potential locations for upgrades.
The locations were selected following a three-month consultation between July 2021 and September 2021, which received more than 11,000 responses.
A report [pdf] compiled from the responses indicates a “lack of connectivity is hindering economic growth” and that better connectivity is needed for remote working, learning and health services.
“These locations have been identified as meeting the program objectives of supporting economic uplift, social/digital inclusion and improving the lived experience of people in the locations,” the department said.
More locations could be forthcoming, with the department indicating that it is “still in the process of engaging with NBN Co to co-fund improved broadband for a set of locations across Victoria”.
“This RFP covers a set of locations that NBN Co has provided costings for,” the department said in the RFP.
“The RFP process will assess the value for money proposition of respondent proposals against all other proposals for a location and seek to enter into contracts with respondents offering the best value for money.
“The state reserves the right to enter into discussion with NBN Co on these locations if, in the State's absolute discretion, it forms a view that NBN Co solutions for these locations offer a better value-for-money proposition.”
The first 12 locations to receive broadband upgrades were revealed in August 2021, with the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions partnering with NBN Co to “fast-track” the build work.
Under the agreement, retail service providers (RSPs) will be able to offer around 10,000 businesses within those areas business-grade fibre connections at “no upfront build cost from NBN Co”.
The department will also “seek to leverage [the] government’s own spend on telecommunications to deploy new wholesale fibre infrastructure to government sites and other locations”, where possible.
Submissions to the Gigabit State program will close on February 25, while the Connecting Victoria program will close on March 15.
Briefing sessions for both grants will be held next week.