Regional telco users short-changed on mobile black spot funding

Disproportionate funding allocation reinforces need for domestic roaming

Vodafone today said that regional communities and businesses have been let down by the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program which has again handed most of the funding to Telstra under round two.

Vodafone Chief Strategy Officer Dan Lloyd said while the company was pleased to secure funding for base stations at Aberfoyle, Condobolin and Wongwibinda in NSW and Yolla in Tasmania, it was disappointed at the disproportionate funding allocation overall.

“Today’s announcement will allow us to bring more competition and choice to the electorates of New England, Parkes and Braddon, greatly benefiting local residents,” Mr Lloyd said.

“We’re already rolling out 26 sites in New England, 17 sites in Central West NSW and 21 sites in Tasmania through our own investment and Round One of the program, and the new funding will help us build on our commitment in those areas.

“But today’s announcement is also a lost opportunity since Telstra has received 75 per cent of sites under rounds one and two. This clearly risks further entrenching the dominance of Telstra, unless the ACCC declares a wholesale domestic roaming service.

“Under the program guidelines, winning bidders are required to make sites available to other operators on preferential terms to reflect the taxpayer subsidy they received.

“We have been enthusiastically offering co-location and nearly half of our sites will be shared. Unfortunately this has not been our experience when seeking co-location.

“We remain an enthusiastic supporter of the program and its objectives to provide improved coverage and competition to regional and rural areas, however we do have concerns around the spirit of the program being upheld.

“Vodafone is very keen to invest further in regional and rural areas, but we’re hamstrung by the existing telecommunications policy and regulatory environment.

“Extending and entrenching Telstra’s regional dominance only raises higher and higher barriers to anyone else investing in regional infrastructure.”

Mr Lloyd said a domestic roaming declaration would ensure that taxpayers in rural and regional areas get maximum value through the Mobile Black Spot Program.

“Australia is a large country with low population density, and the high cost of mobile network deployment means it’s not economically viable to build more than one mobile network in many rural and remote areas,” Mr Lloyd said.

“Infrastructure-sharing is the only way to deliver competition to regional Australia, and to guarantee better choice, coverage and investment.”

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 Notes to editors:

Vodafone has received funding for base stations at Aberfoyle (New England, NSW), Wongwibinda (New England, NSW), Condobolin (Parkes, NSW) and Yolla (Braddon, TAS) under Round Two of the Mobile Black Spot Programme.

In June 2015, Vodafone received funding for 70 base stations under Round One of the Mobile Black Spot Programme.

In May 2016, Vodafone announced an investment of $9 million for 32 additional sites in regional Australia.