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Quiet spending for telecommunications in this year’s budget – what does it mean for the sector?


With continued increase in cost-of-living pressures, and a looming election in 2025, spending on telecommunications is a quiet affair in this year’s budget. However, despite funding for the sector barely being mentioned in major news coverage or even the portfolio statements, there is some solid investment in positive outcomes. As the Government enters the election cycle, focus for the sector is on regional development, NBN, online safety and tackling scams.

Government has committed to spending a whopping $228 million in the 2024-25FY on the overall Better Connectivity Program, more than doubling the estimated $102 million spent in this current financial year. This includes funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program, improving communications resilience, on-farm connectivity, a national audit of mobile coverage, extension of the Regional Tech Hub and First Nations Digital Inclusion. The Government also revealed $1.2 billion will be released from its broader $2.4 billion equity investment to support NBN Co’s ongoing fibre upgrade program.

As part of its commitment to improving online safety, the Government will provide $7.9 million over two years from 2024-25, with $6.5 million intended to develop trial age assurance technologies and approaches to protect children from harmful content online.  In combatting scams, $67.5 million over four years from 2024-25 will be provided through the introduction of the mandatory industry codes under the Scams Code Framework, involving a multi-regulator approach including the ACCC, ACMA, ATO and ASIC. Consultation on the anti-scam code framework was held late last year to January 2024, and will likely result in new regulation for the telco sector. Part of this is to be funded “from cost recovery through ASIC and ACMA industry levies”. While none of us are going to complain about effective ways to reduce the scam industry, we keenly await information on any new levies!

Meanwhile, it is good to see an overall concerted effort to ease cost-of-living pressures, but there is a marked silence on measures to directly assist Australians with their telecommunications bills. The telco industry has been under fire for the last year claiming we’ve failed to protect struggling consumers, with regulators and other bodies including the ACMA, ACCC, ACCAN and TIO calling loudly for an end to co-regulation. While the Government has recognised the cost of utilities, groceries and affordable housing as matters needing direct intervention as part of the budget, it seems (as industry has suggested over the past 12 months) that telco bills are not the huge pain point that regulators make it out to be.

Other interesting points of the budget are an increase in funding for another 46 staff for the ACMA, presumably to handle the scam project, but this isn’t specified.

The government is also set to give special funding to the Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) “to carry out consumer engagement activities to support NBN Co’s regulated Special Access Undertaking, with the financial implications not for publication due to commercial sensitivities and the funding to be held in the Contingency Reserve until final contract details are settled.” We would encourage greater transparency as to the scope, details and specific objectives of this funding once the contractual details are finalised.

All in all it does seem to be a net positive for the internet industry in this year’s budget, particularly with ongoing improvements to NBN’s technology base.


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