NSW Government’s $300M Regional Mobile Program Falls Short of Expectations

Regional Mobile Program

The NSW Government’s ambitious Regional Digital Connectivity Program (RDCP), designed to boost mobile coverage in regional and remote areas, is facing criticism for falling short of expectations.

Despite a hefty investment of over $300 million from the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund (SHLF), the program has managed to deliver less than two percent of its mobile coverage targets.

With the RDCP also encompassing the Gig State program for internet connectivity, significant shortcomings and delays have emerged, raising serious questions about the management and execution of this initiative.

Background of the RDCP

The RDCP, implemented by the Department of Regional NSW, was designed to address digital connectivity challenges in regional and remote communities.

The program’s funding was divided between improving mobile coverage and enhancing internet connectivity through the Gig State program.

The primary goal was to bridge the digital divide, foster economic development, and improve access to essential services in underserved areas.

Challenges and Shortcomings

The Auditor-General’s report identified several critical issues affecting the RDCP:

  1. Deficient Project and Risk Management: The Department of Regional NSW faced considerable challenges in project and risk management, leading to significant delays. Many projects were delayed by over a year, with some still not completed beyond their revised timelines.
  2. Undefined Program Objectives: The report highlights a lack of clear and consistent objectives for the RDCP. While individual business cases for sub-programs set out specific goals, there was no overarching strategy to guide investment decisions and prioritize funding effectively.
  3. Inadequate Monitoring and Evaluation: The department failed to monitor progress against defined outcomes, limiting its ability to demonstrate the program’s effectiveness. Without clear outcome measures, it remains difficult to assess whether the RDCP is achieving its intended purpose.
  4. Limited Achievement of Targets: The mobile coverage program fell significantly short of its original target of 36,000 square kilometres of improved coverage. By June 2023, only about 700 square kilometres were covered, highlighting the disparity between planned and actual achievements.

The Gig State Program: A Contrasting Performance

Unlike the struggling mobile coverage program, the Gig State initiative delivered impressive results.

Aimed at enhancing internet connectivity in regional NSW, the Gig State program tackled the challenge through various sub-programs, including fixed wireless internet access and partnerships with nbn.

The program not only met but far exceeded its initial target, signing contracts to deliver upgraded connectivity to around 13,300 premises by June 2023, well above the goal of 2,500 premises.

Recommendations for Improvement For The Regional Mobile Program

The Auditor-General’s report offers several recommendations to enhance the RDCP’s effectiveness:

  1. Develop an Overarching Investment Strategy: The department should create a comprehensive strategy that clearly defines the program’s objectives and how funding will be directed to achieve these goals.
  2. Regularly Update Timelines and Monitor Progress: Establishing and maintaining detailed project plans with regular updates will help manage delays and ensure timely completion of projects.
  3. Define and Measure Outcomes: The department needs to develop clear outcome indicators to evaluate the RDCP’s impact and ensure it meets its intended purpose.
  4. Revise Evaluation Plans: Updating evaluation plans in line with defined objectives and outcome indicators will provide a more accurate assessment of the program’s performance.

Conclusion

The NSW Government’s RDCP, despite its noble intentions, has fallen short of its promises, especially in enhancing mobile coverage.

This shortfall is particularly concerning given the program’s reliance on taxpayer money, which demands accountability and tangible results.

The Auditor-General’s report pinpoints critical areas for improvement, stressing the need for better project management, clear objectives, and robust evaluation mechanisms.

Improving these aspects is crucial for the Department of Regional NSW to enhance the RDCP’s effectiveness, and to achieve it’s designed goals in regional communities.

Author

  • Michel Elijah

    Tech expert and strong interest in telco. I've worked in the tech industry for 4 years and have always had interest with mobile and internet providers.

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