Ensure efficient investment in innovation infrastructure

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Body text for: Analysis of performance against purpose - Strategic priority 01 - Ensure efficient investment in innovation infrastructure

Fixed line and mobile communications networks are a key part of Australia’s innovation infrastructure. These networks support services that are essential in the modern world, including voice and video communications and access to the internet. Access to fit-for-purpose communications networks is an important building block for innovation, supporting new products, services and business models.

The Department is responsible for developing and implementing policies and programs that contribute to the expansion of innovation infrastructure across Australia. This includes supporting NBNDefinition:National Broadband Network Co Ltd (NBN Co) to roll out and operate the National Broadband Network (NBN), delivering the Mobile Black Spot Program, supporting Australia’s National Collecting Institutions (NCIs) and progressing spectrum and other regulatory reforms to support private sector investment in future technologies.

Table 2.1 Performance criteria outcomes





Provide strategic advice and policy leadership to achieve the Government’s plan for a fast and affordable NBN.

Oversee NBN rollout progress towards a goal of completion by 2020

Corporate Plan 2016–17 p. 9

PBSDefinition:Portfolio Budget Statements 2017–18, p. 24


In collaboration across Government and industry, we will help ensure that communications infrastructure is secure and resilient and able to support innovation across the economy.

Help ensure that communications infrastructure is secure, resilient and supports innovation through collaboration with Government and industry

Corporate Plan 2016–17, p. 9

PBS 2017–18, p. 24


Over the year:

  • We provided policy advice on telecommunications sector security reform, including the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and revised Australian Government Cyber Incident Management Arrangements.
  • We provided secretariat support for two Communications Sector Group meetings to foster business-government information sharing to improve the resilience, continuity and restoration of critical infrastructure and essential services during a major event.

Deliver the Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program to expand reliable mobile phone coverage and competition in outer metropolitan, regional and remote communities.

Deliver the Mobile Black Spot Program to expand reliable mobile phone coverage and competition in outer metropolitan, regional and remote communities

Corporate Plan 2016–17, p. 9

PBS 2017–18, p. 24

In progress

We work with Australia’s National Collecting Institutions (NCIs) to ensure they are accessible, support research communities and leverage digital technologies in delivering services.

NCIs are accessible, support research communities and leverage digital technologies in delivering services

Corporate Plan 2016–17, p. 9

PBS 2017–18, p. 30


See analysis in this section and also at Strategic Priority 4—Foster Australian Arts and Culture

We deliver on the Government’s objective of reforming spectrum policy arrangements to reduce regulatory burden and improve access to new technologies.

Implement spectrum policy reform arrangements

Corporate Plan 2016–17, p. 9

PBS 2017–18, p. 24

In progress

National Broadband Network

The Department provides oversight of NBN Co, which has the mandate to ensure that all Australians have access to the high-speed broadband necessary to participate in the digital economy. The NBN reached the halfway point of construction in mid-2017, and is scheduled for completion by 2020. The NBN is more than Australia’s largest infrastructure project—it is also transforming the communications market by establishing a non-discriminatory, wholesale-only broadband access network to support competition among more than 100 retail service providers.

The NBN is currently at the peak of its construction phase. In 2016–17, the Department focused on activities that promoted infrastructure deployment, including governance of NBN Co, monitoring the pace of the rollout and supporting NBN Co to address implementation issues. Until completion of the rollout, the Department will continue to undertake these activities with an increasing emphasis on consumer experience.

Over the year, we ensured NBN Co had sufficient capital to progress the rollout. We managed the provision of equity payments of $7.2 billion. Working with the Department of Finance, we established a Commonwealth loan to NBN Co of up to $19.5 billion. The loan has been provided on commercial terms and will support future rollout activity while minimising cost and risk to the Government.

As part of our oversight role, we assessed NBN Co’s corporate plan to establish that proposed funding arrangements were efficient and reflective of rollout requirements. This assessment, undertaken jointly with the Department of Finance from April to July 2017, evaluated NBN Co’s deployment and financial forecasts, risk management strategies and governance structures. We received weekly and monthly updates from NBN Co on the progress of the rollout and participated in monthly and quarterly shareholder meetings with NBN Co.

We provided advice to the Minister for Communications and the Minister for Regional Communications to assist government decision-making regarding NBN Co governance and the NBN rollout.

Our activity has contributed to significant progress being made in the NBN rollout. As at 30 June 2017, the NBN was available to over 5.7 million premises—313,000 premises ahead of target. More than 2.4 million Australian homes and businesses now have an active NBN service—100,000 premises ahead of target. Overall, the NBN is now available to over half of Australian homes and businesses. See figure 2.3 for further information.

A growing number of communities and households are experiencing the benefits of the NBN, particularly those in regional Australia that are now able to access high-speed broadband at more affordable prices.

Figure 2.3 NBN rollout–Premises ready for service

Graph showing the number of premises ready for service under the NBN rollout for period 2010–11 to 2019–20. It shows premises ready for service (actual), premises ready for service (forecast), premises activated (actual) and premises activated (forecast). In 2010–11 premises ready for service (actual) was 200,000 and in 2016–17, this had reached 5.7 million. The number of forecast premises ready for service in 2019–20 is currently at 8.1 million.
Source: NBN Co Corporate Plan 2012–15 and 2014–17 (actuals); NBN Co Corporate Plan 2018-21 (forecast). Note: Ready for service refers to homes and businesses passed by the active NBN and ready to order a service.

Mobile Black Spot Program

Competitive private sector investment has delivered quality mobile outcomes for the majority of Australians. Australia’s mobile coverage, affordability, investment and innovation is recognised by the GSM Association, an international industry peak body, which has ranked Australia first of 134 nations on its Mobile Connectivity Index.7 However, the economics of operating mobile services are such that commercial investment is not viable in less populated and geographically isolated areas of Australia.

We are administering the Mobile Black Spot Program, which supports social and economic benefits by expanding mobile coverage and increasing competition along major regional transport routes and in small communities.

Rounds 1 and 2 of the program will deliver almost $600 million (GSTDefinition:goods and services tax inclusive) in new investment in mobile infrastructure in regional and remote Australia, including $430 million in co-funding from industry and state governments. This investment will deliver:8

  • 765 new and upgraded mobile base stations
  • 86,300 square kilometres of new and upgraded handheld coverage
  • 202,300 square kilometres of new external antenna coverage
  • over 7,600 kilometres of new coverage to major transport routes.

Figure 2.4 Mobile Black Spot Program funded round 1 and 2 mobile base stations

Map of Australia showing locations of all mobile base stations funded under round 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program
The map depicts the location of the base stations awarded funding under rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program (MBSP). The exact location of the base station at a given site will be determined by the funding recipient and will be subject to a range of factors including state and local government planning approvals, landowner agreement (where necessary), and construction considerations at the proposed site.

In 2016–17, we continued to deliver the Mobile Black Spot Program. As at 30 June 2017, a total of 203 base stations have been deployed under the program. These 203 base stations are providing improved mobile coverage to an estimated 31,624 premises and 2,256 kilometres of major roads across regional and rural Australia.

Communities across Australia are benefiting from improved mobile phone and data coverage and greater competition. The program has also contributed to improving community welfare. For example, operational reports for the first 54 base stations indicate over 2,619 Triple Zero calls have been made through these base stations.

We will continue to focus on completion of rounds 1 and 2 in 2017–18 and implementation of the $60 million priority locations round of the program, including its competitive assessment process. We will also continue to monitor the effectiveness of the program in improving access and competition at the state and community levels.

In 2016–17, we also contributed in other ways to the deployment of mobile network infrastructure. We developed and consulted on changes to powers and immunities to enable telecommunications carriers to roll out mobile and other telecommunications infrastructure more quickly and at lower costs, enabling them to better meet consumer needs.

On 26 June 2017, we made a submission to the inquiry by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into the declaration of a domestic mobile roaming service.11 The submission emphasised the need to foster private sector investment in competing mobile infrastructure, including in regional, rural and remote areas.

National Collecting Institutions (NCIs)

Australia’s NCIs support a diverse Australian culture by protecting and celebrating Australia’s rich cultural heritage. Increasingly, Australia’s NCIs are using digital technologies to deliver services, supporting greater participation of audiences and the research community.

The Department’s 2016–17 Corporate Plan describes the NCIs as innovation infrastructure. Artistic and cultural institutions foster creativity and provide rich data sources that promote innovation across the community.

In 2016–17, we continued to support the NCIs by providing governance, policy oversight and assistance through programs such as the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program, and by providing policy advice to the Minister for the Arts.

In collaboration with the NCIs and other national cultural institutions, we have continued to refine a framework the NCIs use to measure and report on a range of activities and achievements across the institutions. This year has seen us include year-on-year trend data. The data derived from this framework demonstrate the collective impacts of the Government’s investment in these institutions and success in meeting the Government’s cultural and broader strategic priorities. This includes access, relevance, vibrancy, education, national leadership and organisational excellence. As well as strengthening the important role of the institutions, the framework has helped inform policy decision-making and facilitated ongoing sharing and learning across the institutions.

With this support, the NCIs worked to increase national access to Australian and international cultural material, with exhibitions being displayed across metropolitan, regional and remote venues. During the year, there were almost 11 million visits on-site and off-site to the NCIs.

Figure 2.5 Visits to National Collecting Institutions

Infographic showing number of visits to Australia’s National Collecting Institutions for period 2012–13 to 2016–17. Number of visits in 2012–13 was 8,843,000, rising to 10,708,000 in 2016–17
Source: Department of Communications and the Arts derived from aggregated NCI data.

There were four times as many virtual visits, with over 40 million visits to the NCIs’ websites and over 250 million page views. The digital availability of the national collections also increased slightly during 2016–17 with 9.9 per cent of collections now digitised.

Figure 2.6 Digital objects in national collections

Infographic showing number of digital objects held in Australia’s national collections for period 2012–13 to 2016–17. Number of digital objects in 2012–13 was 9,071,000, rising to 10,565,000 in 2016–17.
Source: Department of Communications and the Arts derived from aggregated NCI data

Spectrum reform

The Department is responsible for policies that underpin planning and use of all radio-frequency spectrum in Australia. Spectrum is an important enabler for new technologies. It is used for applications such as radio and television, mobile and satellite communications, the Internet of Things, smart cities and defence.

Spectrum is essential to a digitally networked economy and is a major contributor to Australia’s economic and social wellbeing.12 The economic value of Australia’s spectrum to the national economy is estimated to be $177 billion over 15 years.13

Australia’s spectrum has been managed using a framework that was developed in 1992, and updated in 2002 following a review of the Radiocommunications Act 1992. The framework needs to be modernised to reflect changes in technology.

In 2016–17, we progressed the implementation of the recommendations of the Government’s 2015 Spectrum Review. These reforms will reduce regulatory burden and support industry investment in new technologies by:

  • improved legislative arrangements—reforms will replace the current legislative arrangements with new legislation that removes prescriptive processes and streamlines licensing
  • integration—the revised framework will better integrate the management of public sector and broadcasting spectrum to improve the consistency and integrity of the framework
  • spectrum pricing—the reform process will review spectrum pricing to ensure consistent and transparent arrangements to support the efficient use of spectrum and secondary markets.

The Department reviewed spectrum prices for commercial broadcasters and these were reflected in the 2017-18 Budget and subsequent Commercial Broadcasting (Tax) Act 2017. We modelled a spectrum price more reflective of its value. In effect, commercial broadcasters will now pay approximately $40 million per year instead of $75,000 per year. This brings commercial broadcasters into the spectrum management framework consistent with other spectrum users.

Over the year, we assisted the Government in developing a consultation package including an Exposure Draft Radiocommunications Bill and consultation papers on broadcasting spectrum, transitional arrangements, Commonwealth spectrum holdings and spectrum pricing. Between May and June 2017, we ran a six-week consultation process on spectrum reform.

The implementation of the Government’s spectrum reform agenda is a multi-year process. In the short term we will continue to progress stakeholder consultation and engagement ahead of implementation.

In parallel, we will continue to work with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMADefinition:Australian Communications and Media Authority) in managing Commonwealth spectrum holdings. Our work in 2016–17 supported the auction of 700 megahertz (MHzDefinition:Megahertz) spectrum—an important enabler for future infrastructure investment.


2 BCARDefinition:Bureau of Communications and Arts Research, 2017, Communications Monitor—context and overview.

3 BCAR, 2017, Trends and drivers in the affordability of communications services for Australian households.

4 BCAR, 2017, Trends and drivers in the affordability of communications services for Australian households.

5 As reported by Newsboost, 26 June 2017, Flying Doctor to trial nbn’s Sky Muster satellite.

6 Department of Communications and the Arts, NBN – Longreach, accessed 15 June 2017.

7 GSM Association, 2016, Mobile connectivity index launch report.

8 Department of Communications and the Arts, Mobile Black Spot Program.

9 As reported by Boorowa News, 25 July 2017, Mobile phones now ringing in Murringo.

10 As reported by The West Australian, 13 June 2017, Businesses welcome valley mobile reception.

11 Department of Communications and the Arts, 26 June 2017, Submission to the Mobile Roaming Inquiry.

12 Department of Communications and the Arts, 2017, Commonwealth Held Spectrum.

13 Centre for International Economics, 2015, The economic value of spectrum (research report prepared for the Department of Communications.

14 Department of Communications and the Arts, 13 April 2017, Spectrum 700MHz auction results.