PM Turnbull mobile tower funding pledge could ring end to SA’s black spots

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HUNDREDS of South Australian mobile phone black spots face annihilation following new commitments for millions of dollars worth of improved coverage. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday the Federal Government would run a third round of its mobile black spot program, backed by $60 million in funding, focusing on sites vital for transport, tourism and bushfire safety.

And the State Government responded by confirming for the first time it would also commit funding to the program.

The absence of local co-funding in round one of the program was criticised when just 11 South Australian towers received funding, from a total of 499 nationally.

But state Minister for Science and Information Economy Kyam Maher on Tuesday said his Government would commit funding in round two.

“We are now negotiating with Telstra and Optus about the priorities they will take to the Federal Government for funding, and the level of State Government support that may be required,” he said.  In round one, Queensland committed $10 million, Victoria $21 million, WA $32 million, NSW $24 million and Tasmania $350,000.

Federal Liberal Member for Barker Tony Pasin called on the State Government to pledge $20 million to make up for the lack of investment in round one.

“We need to get a disproportionate number of these towers in round two,” he said.

Under the third round of the program — which was also backed yesterday by the Federal Labor Party — sites deemed highest priority will be targeted for funding, with less emphasis on co-funding from mobile providers and other governments.

Rural MPs will be given greater control over which locations are funded, potentially exposing them to criticism over the decisions they make.

However, the new approach will lead to funding for sites that are not funded under round one and two because they are not profitable enough.

“This new commitment will improve mobile coverage along major transport routes, in small communities and in locations prone to experiencing natural disasters, as well as addressing unique mobile coverage problems such as areas with high seasonal demand,” Mr Turnbull said.

Mr Pasin said he was prepared for a possible backlash over which sites were chosen, but said “ultimately more base stations rather than less is a good thing”.

There have been 836 mobile black spots in South Australia nominated as part of the program.

The 499 towers funded in round one covered around 3000 black spots nationally.

Sites funded in round two will be announced in the second half of this year and construction will continue over the next three years.

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