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The federal government has announced this week a $22 million fund that will support the development of telecommunications infrastructure in regional Western Australia, aimed at helping strengthen the state’s agricultural sector.

The funding falls within WA’s larger $75 million Infrastructure Investment Fund, which looks to boost regional agricultural infrastructure through the $350 million Seizing the Opportunity Agriculture initiative.

This initiative sits under the umbrella of the state government’s Royalties for Regions scheme, which has invested over $6.9 million of Western Australia’s mining and onshore petroleum royalties into local businesses and infrastructure since its establishment in 2008.

The State Agricultural Telecommunications Infrastructure Improvement Fund (Telecommunications Fund) will seek to provide commercial and social benefits to the state’s regional areas by investing in local projects working with telecommunications technology.

Western Australia’s Regional Development Minister, Terry Redman, said projects developed under the Telecommunications Fund would empower agricultural businesses to help the state’s agricultural sector remain internationally competitive.

“This Telecommunications Fund will invest in projects providing direct long-term benefits and impact on the agricultural industry,” said Redman.

“This could include improving mobile and internet coverage in innovative ways, improvements in knowledge management systems, or better utilisation of wireless technologies and computer-aided or controlled devices.”

Investing in telecommunication technology within Western Australia was a key priority identified in last year’s WA Infrastructure Audit Report, which looked at ways to fill the emerging gaps in agricultural infrastructure.

The report highlighted “access to adequate mobile and internet services” as an ongoing issue amongst the states regional stakeholders, a common theme which pertains to regional communities Australia wide.

Despite the rollout of the NBN, internet coverage in regional areas remains a distinct issue, with some communities still operating on dial-up internet.

The problem has become so dire in certain rural areas over a dozen advocacy groups launched a coalition in November last year to champion for better communication services and end the enduring ‘data drought’.

Speaking about the announcement, WA’s Agricultural and Food Minister, Mark Lewis, said fast internet speeds and “blanket digital coverage” was key to improving the productivity of local agricultural businesses.

The state’s Commerce Minister, Michael Mischin, said stronger data coverage would allow farmers to manage their equipment, paddocks and staff remotely.

“Improved connectivity will support the agriculture industry by enabling farming businesses to access smart science, develop a more agile supply chain through e-commerce, and make use of smart farming apps readily available,” he added.

Aside from telecommunications, the Seizing the Opportunity initiative is also offering programs across biosecurity, agricultural research, and education.

Source: International Food Information Council.

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