I would like to thank the ITU for convening today’s important event with its focus on best practices for financing digital infrastructure investment to provide meaningful connectivity in the Asia and the Pacific region, and to say how pleased I am to appear with such esteemed fellow panellists.
Today I will provide an Australian perspective on the rollout of 3 important pieces of digital infrastructure and how they have been financed.
Given the ever-growing importance of telecommunications to Australia’s economy and society, it is vital to ensure that national infrastructure arrangements are in place that support this.
The Australian Government has adopted a number of programs to ensure the upgrading of the country’s digital infrastructure, and promotion of ubiquitous access, within the context of an open and competitive communications market.
A variety of financial mechanisms have been adopted to facilitate this, aimed at adopting fit-for-purpose regulatory solutions to promote significant investment by both government and private operators.
National Broadband Network
A Government Business Enterprise, NBN Co was established in 2009 to design, build and operate the NBN network.
The company’s purpose is to lift the digital capability of Australia, allowing Australians to have access to a fast, reliable broadband network, at the least possible cost to the taxpayer.
There are currently around 8.2 million homes connected and 11.9 million homes that are able to be connected to the NBN.
Depending on location and geographic challenges, NBN uses a mix of technologies including fixed-line connections, fixed wireless and satellite.
As the network wholesaler, NBN Co is a wholesale network provider to retail service providers (RSPs) on a non-discriminatory basis.
Over the last decade, NBN Co has funded its business through a combination of equity and debt funding from the Commonwealth Government. This has come in the form of $29.5 billion of equity and a $19.5 billion loan that is due to mature on 30 June 2024.
In order to finance the repayment of the Commonwealth loan and to execute the additional investments outlined in this plan, NBN Co is also expected to raise a total of $27.5 billion of external debt by June 2024, plus additional working capital facilities.
Role of NBN during COVID-19
When COVID-19 struck, nearly 99% of Australian homes and businesses were able to connect to the NBN.
This has helped support a range of incredibly important activities, including home-schooling, telework and telehealth.
The increased reliance on the main NBN wholesale network resulted in significant increases in data demand and the take-up of higher speed tiers, as more Australians turned to broadband connectivity for their business, education and entertainment needs.
Mobile Black Spot Program
The Mobile Black Spot Program aims to encourage investment in telecommunications infrastructure to improve mobile coverage and competition.
The program provides a co-investment funding model between government and industry that allows infrastructure to be deployed in areas that would normally be uncommercial, particularly in regional and rural communities.
It targets Public Interest Premises, such as economic centres and emergency services facilities, and improving mobile connectivity along major transport corridors and in disaster-prone regions such as bushfire-prone areas.
The Australian Federal Government has committed $380 million to the program, which has generated investment to date of more than $836 million through the first 5 rounds towards more than 1,200 new base stations across Australia. This includes contributions from state and local governments, mobile network operators, businesses and local communities.
923 base stations have been built and activated as of 30 April 2021.
Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disaster
In May 2020, the Australian Government took steps to increase the resilience of the telecommunications network by investing in the Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disaster package.
The package was a response to the 2019–20 bushfires and the impact on carriers and their networks.
An ACMA review found:
- 1,390 facilities were impacted by the bushfires
- most of the outage incidents were caused by power outages rather than direct fire damage
- the average length of outage incidents was 3.5 days, and the median was 1.6 days.
This $37.1 million package allows telecommunications companies to invest in increased power battery power back-up for mobile towers, temporary facilities to restore telecommunications during and after natural disasters, and satellite services to improve communication capabilities at fire depots and evacuation centres.
In summary, through the adoption of mechanisms tailored to meet the requirements of individual programs, the Australian Government has sought to promote significant investment in new and upgraded digital infrastructure.
This includes a mix of direct investments in infrastructure, co-investments with other stakeholders, and financial incentives that promote private investments and initiatives.
There is not a one-size-fits-all approach that has been adopted, but a variety of flexible arrangements best suited to achieve the desired outcomes.
I would again like to thank the ITU for the opportunity to speak today and I look forward to a lively panel discussion.