The Victorian government will spend $626 million bringing high-speed fibre optic and wireless broadband to suburbs and regional areas and on eliminating mobile blackspots over the next six years.
The funding, revealed in the state’s 2020 budget on Tuesday, is aimed at boosting digital infrastructure and skills in the regions to improve their participation in the digital economy.
Around $526 million of the $626 million has been set aside over the next four years, including $249.4 next financial year, with the remaining funding falling outside of the forward estimates.
Dubbed ‘Victoria’s digital future now’, the initiative includes $250 million to “co-fund business-grade broadband connectivity” through the government’s Gigabit State program.
The government said the program will “address gaps in the availability of reliable high-speed fibre optic and wireless broadband” for business users, targeting those communities most in need.
Regional towns that currently have access to only satellite and fixed wireless services have been identified as being in line for the upgrades.
The government expects the “landmark” broadband infrastructure rollout will support thousands of new jobs, with construction and operation alone “forecast to support around 2000 jobs”.
The $626 million package also holds $300 million to continue to eliminate mobile blackspots in populated areas in regional Victoria, though this remains subject to a co-contribution from the Commonwealth.
The Victorian mobile blackspots program has already “secured” 230 new mobile towers across the state, which the government said had generated “$177 million of infrastructure investment”.
The package will also provide $12 million to establish a new “flagship digital and innovation hub” in the inner Melbourne suburb of Cremorne.
The hub is expected to “accelerate the development of one of Australia’s leading urban technology precincts”, including through the delivery of digital short course and industry internships.
It will work hand-in-hand with a $64 million digital skills and jobs program, which will be used to “retrain Victorians who have lost their jobs during the pandemic.
“This will help unemployed workers to re-skill and transition into digital careers where demand is strong and job vacancies exist,” budget papers state.
Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy Jaala Pulford said the funding will ensure that Victoria can keep pace with new technology.
“The pandemic has changed the way we work and the way we live, with more of our day-to-day lives happening online,” she said.
"This Budget will help us use and embrace new technology – and make it one of Victoria’s strengths.
“This investment in digital technology is a game-changer, particularly for regional Victoria. It means new innovation, new opportunities – and new local jobs.”