Connecting the regions, connecting Victorians23/04/2018
Digital connectivity is fundamental to people’s lives, equity and to economic and social development of communities, and it creates opportunities and reduces costs created by geographic and other barriers.
Many people living in rural and regional Victoria have a different digital experience to those in the city. In some areas, it can be challenging to do business, access information, make mobile phone calls or use tools for education or lifestyle such as social media or video calls.
This is something well known to each of the Regional Partnerships that called for improvements to digital infrastructure in 2016. In response, the Victorian Budget 2017/18 included $45 million for the Connecting Regional Communities Program (CRCP).
The CRCP builds on, and extends, the Victorian Government’s successful investments to improve regional mobile coverage and free public WiFi projects – which are in addition to the work on Regional Rail Connectivity. In 2017, each of these projects were brought under the same umbrella and are now collectively referred to as the ‘Connecting Victoria’ program.
The regional digital infrastructure investments that are part of Connecting Victoria include:
- $45 million for the Connecting Regional Communities Program (CRCP):
- $11 million for the Mobile Black Spot Program, focused on flood and fire prone areas;
- $7 million for free public WiFi in Shepparton and Geelong;
- $7 million for regional enhanced broadband projects in Morwell, North Geelong and Horsham;
- $12 million for projects to support the adaption of internet enabled on farm technologies in Victoria’s North West, the Macalister Irrigation District, the Murray-Goulburn and the Serpentine region;
- $7 million for state-wide Digital Economy Plan initiatives to drive innovation and increase the competitiveness of regional industries;
- $1 million to improve regional services through access to government communications infrastructure;
- Localised digital plans for each of the nine Regional Partnerships.
- $33 million for previous mobile black spot removal (attracting $89 million in combined funding from the Commonwealth Government, mobile carriers and local government);
- $18 million for Regional Rail Connectivity;
- $16.4 million to improve digital connectivity for regional schools.
The economic and social benefits of improved digital connectivity are well-articulated. Improved digital connectivity would bring considerable benefits to regional Victoria that are aligned with improving health, education and employment outcomes, better supporting businesses and increasing economic growth and jobs in the region.
Each of the nine Regional Partnerships, including Ovens Murray, are closely involved in the shaping of the digital plans for their region. Partnership members are in the process of engaging with their communities on their digital priorities, creating a digital plan that addresses local needs.
"Improving digital connectivity is a key regional priority and the development of an Ovens Murray Digital Plan has been enthusiastically supported, with more than 10 community and business representatives from across the region attending a recent workshop to assist the project team," says Irene Grant, Chair of the Ovens Murray Regional Partnership.
With Regional Partnerships engaged in this process, the Connecting Victoria program can ensure it can deliver the best infrastructure and services possible to meet the needs of individual regions and regional Victoria collectively to maximise future benefits and opportunities.