A Digital Future for Australia's Rural Regions

"Australia's regional, rural and remote communities deserve better communications systems and greater participation in the digital economy."

by / March 6, 2009

The Rudd government yesterday announced an additional $60 million investment in regional communications, including for education, health and emergency services projects, greater access to satellite phones and an expansion of computer and internet access for remote Indigenous communities.

"Australia's regional, rural and remote communities deserve better communications systems and greater participation in the digital economy," said Senator Stephen Conroy, minister for broadband, communications and the digital economy.

The measures are an initial response to the Regional Telecommunications Review (RTR), which was chaired by Dr. Bill Glasson. The government has indicated that it will invest up to $400 million for responses to Review recommendations.

As advocated by Glasson in the RTR Report, an investment of 10 to 15 percent of the available funds has been made in the government's initial response.

This includes:

1.) $46 million in new funds for the Digital Regions Initiative to enable digital education, health and emergency services projects in partnership with state, territory and local governments. Applications will be called no later than September 2009 with projects expected to commence in early in 2010. Projects will be selected through a competitive selection process and may include:

  • remote medical consultation, diagnosis and treatment to address regional skills shortages;
  • digital resources and services such as teleconferencing to improve access to educational opportunities for regional, rural and remote students; and
  • digital technologies to improve emergency and disaster response.

2.) $11.4 million in new funds to increase and extend the subsidies available under the Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme for Australians living and working in areas without terrestrial coverage.

3.) An additional $3.7 million contribution to a $30 million refocused Indigenous Communications Program to improve essential telecommunications services, basic public internet access facilities and computer training for remote Indigenous communities in partnership with states and territories.

The Government will also address a number of the recommendations in collaboration with all levels of government through the Online and Communications Council and other forums. It will also engage with the telecommunications industry and consumer groups on particular issues.

As advised by the Review, the government will respond to recommendations related to the National Broadband Network once the outcome of this process is finalized.

The Government's initial response to the Review builds upon existing Government initiatives that have already been announced. These include:

  • Investment of up to $4.7 billion in the National Broadband Network to 98 percent of homes and businesses, including the vast majority in regional and rural Australia.
  • $270.7 million over four years for the Australian Broadband Guarantee subsidy scheme.
  • Examination of a range of policy options for enhanced broadband in the most remote 2 percent of the country.