The Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications has kicked off another consultation in relation to the Regional Connectivity Program.
The initiative is a $53 million (GST exclusive) grants program seeking to improve digital connectivity in regional and rural Australia. It is to provide targeted investment to offer economic opportunities and enable full participation in the digital economy for regional, rural and remote business and communities.
An initial discussion paper on the Regional Connectivity Program was published in August last year and this time around the Department is seeking feedback on the draft guidelines for the program. In addition to outlining the eligibility for projects and participants, it also contains proposed assessment criteria and the application process involved.
The grants are to support projects that either deliver new or upgraded telecommunications infrastructure providing improved access to mobile and/or general broadband services in eligible areas, and will focus on areas outside the NBN fixed-line footprint. This won’t be a short-term commitment for those who get cash, they’ll be expected to provide retail services for a minimum period of 10 years after the project becomes operational. There is also an expectation of a “substantial” cash co-contribution to the capital costs of building or installing each project.
There is no minimum or maximum amount specified for grants, although obviously none will be above the amount of available funds. However, it’s envisioned eligible applications will be placed into one of three categories according to the amount of funding requested to ensure smaller projects are given a decent crack at the loot.
Parties such as industry, business and community groups will be considered eligible if they team up with an entity that is a licensed telecommunications carrier or holder of a Nominated Carrier Declaration (NCD) under the Telecommunications Act 1997.
Under the proposed guidelines, the Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government in consultation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts will decide which grants to approve after taking into consideration the views of the evaluation committee.
The consultation period for the draft guidelines ends March 13, 2020 17:00 AEDT and further information can be viewed here.