Govt to scope emergency roaming, improve regional coverage


Monday, 23 October, 2023

Govt to scope emergency roaming, improve regional coverage

The Australian Government has announced it will work with industry to scope an emergency mobile roaming capability to keep citizens connected during natural disasters, following a new report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released today.

The ACCC’s Regional Mobile Infrastructure Inquiry final report outlines key challenges when it comes to providing reliable, accessible and resilience communications in regional Australia. Importantly, the report examined the feasibility of temporary roaming services to enable Australians to connect to any available mobile network during natural disasters and other emergencies.

The ACCC found that temporary emergency roaming was technically feasible, but further work was needed to design and develop the capability. Ensuring coordination between government and mobile network operators would also help mitigate risks such as network congestion. Ministers have tasked the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts (DITRDCA) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) with progressing this next step in collaboration with mobile carriers and to report back to government by March next year.

The report makes the case for a review of existing regulation that governs access to mobile towers and associated infrastructure in regional areas to deliver better outcomes for consumers. It highlights that encouraging carriers to deploy mobile infrastructure in areas without a commercial incentive through current grant programs is a significant challenge, and industry collaboration through infrastructure sharing may be the key to coverage improvements in these areas. It also found that infrastructure sharing can reduce costs to deploy new mobile sites and that the public benefits flowing from these grant programs would outweigh possible competition concerns.

The news comes just a few days after the government announced that a total of $37.2 million in Commonwealth funding has been awarded under the Improving Mobile Coverage Round (IMCR) to improve mobile coverage and quality in identified locations across regional Australia. Grant applications were independently assessed by the DITRDCA against the program’s Grant Opportunity Guidelines.

The IMCR grants will build 41 new base stations to improve mobile coverage at 42 target locations identified as having unreliable service by the now-government when in Opposition. Of the 12 target locations not addressed by the IMCR, five locations did not receive applications; four locations received applications which were assessed as being too expensive and not delivering value for money; and three locations received applications that did not satisfy the technical coverage or solution requirements of the guidelines.

Within the remaining $2.8 million in grant funding for the IMCR, options are being considered to further test industry solutions for two of the three locations that did not meet technical coverage requirements, but where DITRDCA advice indicates there is a reasonable prospect that a value for money solution may exist. Four locations are also expected to receive coverage improvements through projects that are already approved and funded across the Regional Connectivity and Peri-Urban Mobile Programs, or through commercial solutions.

A full list of funded locations under the IMCR is available at www.infrastructure.gov.au/mbsp. The rollout schedule will be published on the carriers’ websites once the contracts have been executed.

Image credit: iStock.com/ozgurcankaya

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