Co-investment program delivers improved telecommunications for remote NT communities

Media Release, 05 November 2021

Over 17,000 square kilometres of new and improved mobile coverage, millions of new phone calls, and thousands of hours of downloaded data in remote NT are some of the key outcomes of the recently completed $30m telecommunications partnership between Telstra and the NT Government.

The recent switch on of a new Telstra mobile base station in Bulla, 380km south west of Darwin, signalled the completion of construction under the Infrastructure and Sustainability Co-investment Agreement (ISCA), delivering new mobile and/or fixed broadband internet connectivity to 17 remote Territory communities.

In the last twelve months, over 5.5 million voice calls were made and more than 125 terabytes of data were downloaded. This is equivalent to streaming over 41,500 hours of HD video content.

All up, over 17,000 square kilometres of new and improved coverage has been delivered to some of the most isolated parts of the Territory, equivalent to an area almost six times the size of greater Darwin.

“Regardless of where they live, all Territorians deserve access to reliable mobile phone and internet services,” said Nic Danks, Regional General Manager for Telstra in the NT.

“While Telstra provides mobile coverage to almost 96% of the NT population, vast distances, challenging terrain, and small, dispersed communities make it difficult to get everyone connected. Costs to deliver connectivity in remote communities are huge and without co-investment, it wouldn’t be viable,” he said.

“Over 4,000 of the Territory’s most remote residents are now receiving new mobile coverage and another 1,000 people have the option of fixed line internet because of this program.

“The impact of these programs – bringing connectivity and educational and potential economic activity to the bush and its communities – is life changing for many.”

As part of this agreement, Telstra also delivered an additional investment in the NT of over $4 million for digital literacy initiatives, cyber safety programs and telehealth services.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the absolute necessity of fast and reliable phone and data services for everyone,” Northern Territory Minister for Corporate and Digital Development, Paul Kirby said.

“Telstra and the NT Government’s co-investment partnerships have already seen over 40 remote communities receive mobile phone and/or broadband services since 2007 with over 20,000 Territorians now able to access mobile and broadband communications.”

“Atitjere received new internet and mobile coverage in July 2019 and it certainly has brought benefits to the community,” said Leslie Manda, Deputy CEO from the Central Desert Regional Council.

“From an operational perspective, our field staff are often in peripheral areas preparing firebreaks and the local airstrip and having mobile coverage helps the staff keep in contact, which is great for safety. For the community, both the locals and service providers such as the Police and the local Health Clinic are certainly appreciating the extra connectivity.

“Working in a remote location such as Atitjere, it certainly helps you do your job better and provides that extra level of coverage in emergency situations.”

Two other telecommunications co-investment programs between Telstra and the NT Government are also helping to deliver or improve connectivity across the Territory.

The Regional Telecommunications Co-investment Program (RTCP) is expected to be completed in 2022 and sees the NT Government and Telstra each commit $14m across four years to help better connect remote communities.

It has already delivered improved mobile and fixed line connectivity on the Tiwi Islands. A further 10 new regional mobile base stations are expected to be on-air next year. 

The second telecommunications co-investment project between Telstra and the NT Government is the Arnhem Land Backhaul Project. It will see the transmission network capacity upgraded from 5Gb to a combined 100Gb capacity through 15 Telstra exchanges across East Arnhem Land, allowing for growth opportunities and performance improvements for existing and new customers in those remote communities along the route.

Total cost is approximately $8m, of which Telstra and the NT Government are each contributing approximately $2.5 m each, with additional support from the Commonwealth Government and Developing East Arnhem Land (DEAL).