Local, Independant and Effective

Hansard Transcript, June 3, Question Without Notice - Telecommunications

Posted June 04, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (14:14): My question is to the Minister for Communications. Thank you for the funding of the election commitment of $100 million for mobile phone black spots. I understand that nationally over 1800 black spots have been reported to the department and this money in the budget will be used to fix approximately 250. Given that many of the 1,550 remaining black spots are not financially viable for the telcos to build and in order to speed up the rollout, would you consider co-locating mobile capability and NBN wireless towers?


MALCOLM TURNBULL (Wentworth—Minister for Communications) (14:15): I thank the honourable member for her question. The short answer to her question is yes and that in fact is our policy. If I can explain the history of this matter for the honourable member's benefit, during the Howard government substantial amounts of money were spent rectifying mobile phone black spots.

As all honourable members from regional seats know very well, the biggest single telecommunications complaint is no mobile phone coverage. That is by far the biggest problem. Remarkably, for six years under the previous government not one cent was spent to address mobile phone black spots.

As the honourable member for Indi has observed, we have committed $100 million in the budget. When the NBN was established by the previous government, it had no mandate whatsoever to assist in mobile phone coverage. The then chief executive, Mr Quigley, admitted that in a committee hearing. We have instructed the NBN Co to, wherever possible, find opportunities where it can offer colocation and support for mobile network operators.

There are a number of areas—it is not the majority of the 2,700 towers that will be established for the NBN—where there is fixed wireless coverage under the NBN Co planned where there is no mobile phone coverage or mobile phone coverage of poor quality, or mobile phone coverage from only one of the three carriers. So yes, there are opportunities to do that. The NBN Co is also looking at a tower access product that will provide competitive backhaul from mobile phone towers to thereby reduce the cost of establishing new services in these areas via the mobile network operators.

So we are looking at every way we can support this, but this is not a silver bullet. The honourable member should understand—I am sure she does understand—that the fixed wireless footprint is obviously focused on areas where there are premises to be serviced and that the black spots tend to occur in areas of thinner population. 

It is an important part of the mission of the NBN Co and over the top of all of that we have the mobile phone black spots policy. My parliamentary secretary, the member for Bradfield, has been across the length and breadth of the country identifying these opportunities and he has done an outstanding job to ensure that this scheme will be designed and will get absolutely best value for taxpayers.

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