Telco consumer advocate group Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) is urging the government to re-establish the Communications Fund to support future communications programs.
The proposal is part of the group’s pre-budget submission for 2019-20, which also includes an earlier proposal for concession pricing for the NBN and phone services, audio descriptions for television and multi-platform video access features for people with disabilities.
The Communications Fund was a $2 billion dedicated funding mechanism established in 2005 as part of a larger package aimed at “future proofing” telecommunications in regional Australia. The fund was eventually abolished in the 2008-09 federal budget, transferring the funds to the Building Australia Fund, part of which funded the NBN.
“There are many programs and projects that merit and require recurrent funding commitments to be made by the government to ensure all Australians have access to affordable and suitable communications services,” ACCAN’s submission read.
“The funding of these programs is, however, often ad-hoc and inconsistent despite the enduring need for service provision and investment.”
ACCAN said the fund would be paid for with revenues earned from spectrum auctions, and would be the “most appropriate” long term funding solution.
The group added that the government has earned $5 billion in the auction of spectrum licenses for the past five years. The most recent 5G spectrum auction alone netted $853 million from the winning bidders.
“ACCAN believes than initial allocation of approximately half of the revenues raised by the most recent spectrum auction or $400 million would be an appropriate initial allocation of capital to the re-established fund,” the submission read.
ACCAN also said that while investment in infrastructure had been “promising”, further investment in the regions is necessary.
“Much of the investment in infrastructure has focused on the provision of communications services to fixed locations, with investments in regional mobile infrastructure having been modest in comparison to those in fixed services infrastructure,” ACCAN said.
“As a consequence the true share of infrastructure investment in the regions is markedly lower than that implied by headline figures.”