This week the Australian Government’s $53 million Regional Connectivity Program (RCP) competitive grants opened for applications, a milestone welcomed by the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC).
The RCP grants will fund infrastructure to provide mobile or broadband services that provide both economic and social benefits and directly address the needs of a regional, rural or remote community.
Telecommunications carriers are eligible to apply for the grants, and can partner with state, territory and local governments, industry and community groups.
RRRCC member and co-founder of Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia, Kristy Sparrow, said the grants program will take a ‘place-based’ approach to investment.
“This approach recognises that communities have distinct connectivity needs, and will hopefully allow for tailored solutions to meet those needs,” Ms Sparrow said.
“For this to be successful we need regional communities and their representative organisations – including local governments – to put up their hands and work closely with telcos to develop applications that will provide real benefits.”
To help facilitate linkages between telecommunications carriers and communities, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications has developed an online project noticeboard.
Ms Sparrow said the RRRCC encouraged regional, rural and remote communities to add their potential projects to the RCP noticeboard on the department’s website.
National Farmers’ Federation Chief Executive Tony Mahar said the RCP grants were an important step forward that would help to deliver on the RRRCC goal of equitable voice and data access, and support economic development in the regions.
“All Australians deserve access to adequate telecommunications, whether they live in an urban environment, or out in one of Australia’s many regional, rural or remote communities,” Mr Mahar said.
“While 2020 has been a challenging year for all, the pandemic and bushfire events have reinforced that priority needs to be placed on affordable, reliable and quality connectivity options.
“This is important not only for access to essential services and social connectivity, but also to support the growth and competitiveness of regional businesses.
“There are huge opportunities to grow our regional economies, and access to innovative and customised connectivity solutions through the RCP will help to drive that growth.”
Mr Mahar said examples of projects that could be funded through the RCP grants include enterprise-grade broadband networks to support local manufacturing, agricultural or tourism businesses, or mobile infrastructure upgrades to improve community access to remote education or telehealth.
The program is open for applications until 20 October 2020.
More information on the RRRCC and its goals is available here.
The Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition includes the following members: