Here’s Everything Telco (So Far) From the 2023-24 Budget

Here’s Everything Telco (So Far) From the 2023-24 Budget

It seems Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is as bad at keeping a secret as kid who found what their parents got them for Christmas three weeks early. She’s announced almost everything (we think) telco-related that we can expect out of next week’s federal Budget 2023-24.

Yesterday morning, Rowland tweeted that the government would be rolling out a new cell broadcast National Messaging System, or NMS.

The details were scant, with everything we knew limited to the three posts contained within that thread and explained by the minister in a press release as using “state-of-the-art technology to significantly enhance how the Commonwealth delivers emergency messages”. Last night, during a speech to the Comms Day Edison Awards in Sydney, Rowland gave us a little more detail on the NMS, as well as detail on everything telco we can expect from the federal Budget 2023-24.

Federal Budget 2023-24 telco announcements

“The Albanese Government is committed to improving the security of Australians — whether that be economic security, national security, cybersecurity, or public safety outcomes through emergency management,” Rowland said.

The NMS, Rowland said, is the government’s commitment to “deliver a modern, fit-for-purpose, emergency warning system for Australians, which will be of particular benefit for regional and remote communities”.

“We need better capability to better quickly disseminate information during a crisis and support our heroic first responders,” she explained.

The federal Budget 2023-24 will fund the delivery of a cell broadcast National Messaging System, which, as the name suggests, will be based on cell broadcast technology.

“This is a standardised point-to-area communication which sends a prioritised message from mobile towers to all hand-held devices in a specified geographic area. Cell broadcast is also geo-specific and scalable, enabling smartphones to be reached locally, regionally, or across the nation,” Rowland added. “It’s a proven technology, where Australia has unfortunately been left behind.”

Such a tech is used by 21 other countries and it will be a massive improvement over the legacy sms-based system currently used. The current system, by the way, requires telcos to upload numbers. Geo-based communication will do a much better job of reaching everyone it needs to, in near real-time, based on their physical location, not resulting in network congestion nor relying on a single telco to deliver the whole thing.

“Emergency alerts will be differentiated and highly trustworthy,” she added.

The government has also committed $10.1 million (over two years) as part of the 2023-24 federal Budget to establish a central taskforce to drive the delivery of a Public Safety Mobile Broadband (PSMB) capability. The PSMB capability would deliver a mobile broadband service that provides Public Safety Agencies and first responders with fast and secure voice, video and data communications.

“It is surprising and concerning that Australia’s public safety agencies currently rely upon what are essentially separate, narrowband radio networks, utilising decades-old legacy technology,” Rowland said, adding: “This will support the coordination of responses across organisational and geographic boundaries, and enhance Australia’s ability to manage emergencies, hazards and threats.”

PSMB refers to a prioritised mobile broadband service for emergency services to use, that also enables first responders to make better use of internet-based technologies and applications to access video, images, location tracking, and other data.

Although not a 2023-24 federal Budget measure, Rowland also spoke about NBN Co’s project that is trialling the use of micro-wind turbines to keep its facilities online during emergencies.

“Power outages are a persistent problem for communications networks during natural disasters. It’s a cause of great frustration
and concern for communities often affected by disasters, and one that can literally mean the difference between life and death,” she said.

She said the government has committed $50 million to the Telecommunications Disaster Resilience Innovation grant program, and $15 million to the next round of the Mobile Network Hardening Program.

“These programs will fund technological innovations, improve the power resilience of telecommunications, addresses other resilience
challenges like improving coverage of temporary infrastructure, and support the hardening of sites to keep communications networks
operational when needed most,” Rowland added.

The federal government is also delivering the Broadcasting Resilience Program (BRP), to, what Rowland said, help Australians get trusted, timely information during emergencies. The BRP will provide $20 million in funding, discussed in the federal Budget 2023-24, to improve the resilience of ABC sites used for emergency broadcasting which are at a higher risk of service failure due to natural disasters.

Rowland also touched on the standing up of the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite Working Group. The Group was established to examine the future role of satellite technology in delivering telecommunications services.

“It now also appears increasingly clear that Direct to Handset communication, at least for voice and messaging, is likely to be a reality sooner rather than later. Multiple international trials have been announced and some have already been implemented,” Rowland explained.

Last week, the government announced the upcoming SMS Sender ID Registry, something that will hopefully prevent pesky scam messages from ever reaching your phone. The registry, to be funded in the 2023-24 federal Budget to the tune of $10 million, will require businesses and organisations to provide phone numbers they use for communications. Say for example Australia Post has six numbers in the registry, only messages pertaining to be from Australia Post, using those digits, will be let through the net.

“In 2022 alone, the ACCC estimates that Australians lost around $3.1 billion to scams. We suspect the figure is actually considerably higher, given the number of people who through shame or embarrassment, don’t actually report when they’ve fallen victim to these criminals,” the minister said.

“And we know that the consequence of scams isn’t just financial loss. This criminal deception has a human toll, impacting the dignity and
mental wellbeing of Australians.”

And lastly, Rowland touched on the NBN Special Access Undertaking, which yesterday was rejected by the ACCC, as well as the previous commitments the government has made to upgrading the National Broadband Network (investing $2.4 billion to expand the full-fibre network to an additional 1.5 million premises).

While not a Budget commitment, Rowland did underscore the following with severe importance:

“What is abundantly clear under this government is that the National Broadband Network will remain in public hands for the foreseeable

This article has been updated since it was first published and we’ll continue to make updates as further federal Budget 2023-24 telco-related announcements are made.