Mobile Blackspot Program’s future clarified, though Casey MP Aaron Violi remains concerned

Grants through the Mobile Blackspot Program are expected to open later this year. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

Funding for the Mobile Blackspot Program (MBSP) through the Federal Government’s Better Connectivity Plan (BCP) will continue to be distributed over the next three years, despite no further funding yet established for 2027/28 and beyond.

After the 2022 Federal election and the change of government, the MBSP and the Regional Connectivity Program (RCP) were brought into the BCP with an eighth round of grants expected to open later this year.

Minister for Communication Michelle Rowland said the MBSP is an important program that continues to support regional, remote, and First Nations communities through co-funding new and improved mobile connectivity.

“The program has not been cut, and we are delivering funding to the program through our $1.1 billion Better Connectivity Plan,” she said.

“This is a separate appropriation line in the Budget Papers, to the funding of earlier rounds of the MBSP (Rounds 1 to 5A) and the Government’s election commitment funding,”

“The Government has already delivered a number of program rounds through this Better Connectivity Plan funding; including Round 7 of the MBSP, Round 3 of the Regional Connectivity Program, the Telecommunications Disaster Resilience Innovation Program, Round 1 of the On Farm Connectivity Program, the Broadcasting Resilience Program, an extension to the Regional Tech Hub services, and the National Audit of Mobile Coverage.”

Forward estimates in the Budget papers indicate $45,893,000, $26,526,000 and $15,562,000 are anticipated to be spent through the MBSP over the next three years with no further funding yet announced beyond that point.

$30,498,000, $22,771,000 and $7,859,000 will be spent over the same period on the Peri-Urban Mobile Program (pUMP) which the Casey electorate will be eligible to apply for further funding through. Projects in Silvan and Menzies Creek are in progress from Round One of the PUMP, with Round Two submissions having closed in April 2024 and Round Three in the offing.

Ms Rowland said further funding is available in the Better Connectivity Plan for new rounds of the MBSP – including Round 8.

“In addition, the Government has established the 2024 Regional Telecommunications Review to examine the adequacy of regional Australia’s telecommunications, including hearing from people in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia,” she said.

“The Government has also been consulting publicly over the past six months on modernising the universal services arrangements. While this work is ongoing, the Government continues to deliver on its commitments through the Better Connectivity Plan – including further rounds of the MBSP.”

The Australian Electoral Commission has the Casey electorate listed as ‘rural’ due to it being outside of major cities. Classifications of Casey have drawn some ire, including from serving MP Aaron Violi who believes the community has previously missed out on funding opportunities and projects designated for regional and rural programs.

Under State Government jurisdiction, all of the townships in the Casey electorate are deemed metropolitan.

As recently as 2022, the Federal Government’s Modified Monash Model (MMM) for medical centres had the township of Yarra Junction as a ‘regional centre’ and the Yarra Junction Medical Centre unable to attract doctors through incentives offered to rural practices despite being 1.5km away from being classified as a ‘small rural town’. They have since been reclassified.

Casey MP Aaron Violi said in the short term, he still holds concerns that the Yarra Ranges may not fall into the rural or regional classification.

“As we have seen in recent years, our community is often considered metropolitan despite our peri-urban and rural landscape,” he said.

“Our community has previously missed out on telecommunications funding under the Mobile Network Hardening Program, which provides upgrades in regional, rural and remote Australia, due to our community not being considered rural or regional. I wrote to the Minister for Communications about this last year and am hopeful that will be addressed for future funding rounds,”

“It would be devastating for our community to miss out on telecommunications funding. In black and white, the Budget papers state clearly there is no funding for mobile programs from 2027/28 and that the MBSP is concluding.”