The Victorian government will allocate $40 million from its May budget to improving phone and internet coverage for commuters, with Premier Dennis Napthine calling on telcos and the Commonwealth to similarly reach into their pockets.
The $40 million will pay for free wi-fi on all V/Line train services from Victoria’s regional centres into Melbourne, plus mobile blackspot remediation along 600km of the routes and elsewhere in the state.
Napthine will soon approach the market for suppliers. He said he expects free wi-fi to be on some, if not all, V/Line services by the end of 2015.
But the funding will not extend to inner city rail services.
The Premier said the government would only partner with telecommunications companies for coverage on metropolitan services after the telcos fronted up their own investment.
“At the moment I think they're being a bit greedy,” he told reporters today.
“We would like them to sharpen their pencils so that they can offer us a good deal for providing some of those services, particularly in the loop.
“We think that there would be so much use of those services that [extending coverage] should actually provide a dividend to the telephone industry, and therefore we think they should make the service available at a fair price."
Napthine said he hoped Victoria’s $40 million budget pledge would “be complemented by money out of the $100 million commitment from the Coalition Federal Government to fix mobile blackspots across Australia”.
The Premier said he expected to receive $25 million from the pool, in line with the state's proportion of the national population.
“So we are putting our money on the table. We are looking for the federal government to come on board,” he said.
In February, Victorian Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips promised to lobby the federal Communications Department to secure funding for regional Victoria, which suffered during bushfire season due to patchy telecommunications coverage, hampering public alerts to mobile phones and emergency services’ efforts.
The Department of Communications expects to launch “a competitive selection process” mid-year to decide where to allocate the $100 million from the mobile blackspots pool.
While it would not confirm whether it would meet the Premier's allocation expectations, a spokesperson hinted Victoria's financial commitment would be looked upon favourably in the decisive stages.
"Co-contributions from state and territory governments and local councils will be an important element in the assessment process given the large number of black spot locations seeking funding," the spokesperson told iTnews.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, welcomed Napthine's funding announcement.
“By working together, I am confident that the Commonwealth and Victorian Coalition Governments will be able to make a difference for Victoria’s regional communities,” he said in a statement.