Vic gov’t opens $265m in telecom grants to improve mobile and internet coverage – Telco/ISP

The Government of Victoria has opened the second stage of its Connecting Victoria mobile programme, with $230 million on the table for telecom operators to improve 4G and 5G coverage in underserved areas.

The Ministry of Jobs, Cities and Regions began accepting grant funding proposals on Tuesday, which it expects to “commit fully” before the end of the 2021-22 financial year.

The Connecting Victoria program aims to improve mobile coverage and digital inclusion, particularly in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and regional areas, by co-funding new and upgraded infrastructure.

It was funded to the tune of $550 million in the 2020 state budget, with funding to be shared with Gigabit State, a similar program aimed at delivering business-grade broadband to businesses and households.

The first stage of the Connecting Victoria program has already made $30 million available to telecom operators to improve 4G and 5G coverage in areas with high economic potential, according to the department.

The tender documents show that the funding will be allocated to mobile network operators and mobile network infrastructure providers who offer solutions that meet three strategic themes: essential coverage, fast forward 4G/5G and locations of strategic importance.

The majority of funding (75-85%) will be allocated to the 4G/5G fast-forward theme, which aims to provide “robust portable 4G and 5G coverage with high data speeds”.

Essential coverage, meanwhile, will provide at least 4G coverage “where there is little or no existing mobile coverage for mobile network operators”, while strategically important locations have been designated by the Department.

All proposals – which may be greenfield, brownfield or upgrade – should contribute to “the provision of new or improved mobile coverage to consumers, with services operational for at least 10 years”.

gigabit state

Gigabit State, which is co-funding the construction of new or improved infrastructure for business-grade broadband using $250 million in Connecting Victoria program funds, also began accepting applications on Tuesday.

The ministry is offering $35 million of the $228 million in grants available under the request for proposals (RFP), which identified 131 potential locations for upgrades.

The locations were selected following a three-month consultation between July 2021 and September 2021, which received over 11,000 responses.

A report [pdf] compiled from responses states that “lack of connectivity is hampering economic growth” and that better connectivity is needed for remote working, learning and health services.

“These locations have been identified as meeting the program objectives of supporting economic uplift, social/digital inclusion, and improving the lived experience of people in the locations,” the department said.

More locations could be forthcoming, with the department saying it is ‘still in the process of engaging with NBN Co to co-fund broadband upgrades for a range of locations across Victoria’.

“This RFP covers a set of locations for which NBN Co has provided costs,” the department said in the RFP.

“The bidding process will evaluate Respondents’ Value for Money proposal against all other location proposals and seek to enter into contracts with Respondents offering the best value for money.

“The State reserves the right to enter into discussions with NBN Co about these locations if, in the State’s sole discretion, it believes that NBN Co’s solutions for these locations provide better value.”

The first 12 locations to receive broadband upgrades were revealed in August 2021, with the Department of Jobs, Constituencies and Regions partnering with NBN Co to ‘speed up’ construction work.

Under the agreement, Retail Service Providers (RSPs) will be able to offer approximately 10,000 businesses in these areas business-grade fiber connections without “NBN Co’s upfront construction cost”.

The ministry will also “seek to leverage [the] government’s own telecommunications spending to deploy new wholesale fiber optic infrastructure at government sites and other locations,” where possible.

Submissions to the Gigabit State program will end on February 25, while the Connecting Victoria program will end on March 15.

Information sessions for both grants will be held next week.

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