While signalling the end of Commonwealth government equity funding of the NBN, the 2016 federal budget commits the government to outlaying $77 million for the Mobile Blackspots Programme this coming financial year.
This represents the balance of the $100 million allocated under Round 1 of the programme, with $23 million already allocated in the 2015/6 budget. Round 1 will see 499 new mobile base stations rolled out by Telstra (429) and Vodafone (70) over a 3 year period.
The roll-out is being co-funded by the Commonwealth, Telstra and Vodafone and state governments. Some $1.7 million has also been provided by local governments, businesses and community organisations.
The provision of mobile services to all Australians does not currently form part of the Universal Service Obligation (USO), despite the growing centrality of this mode of communication to both social and commercial life.
This could change, depending on the outcomes of the USO Review to be conducted by the Productivity Commission. In the meantime, however, the Blackspots Programme is generally regarded as one of the more successful initiatives taken by government to address market failure in the telecommunications area.
A further $60 million has been committed by the Commonwealth for round 2 of the programme, with applications due from mobile network operators and infrastructure providers by 14 June 2016.