27 February 2014

Residents and travellers in rural and remote Australia have just over a month to apply to purchase new satellite phones before the close of the Australian Government's Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme.

The scheme, which closes on June 30, gives residents or businesses located in areas without mobile coverage an 85 per cent rebate, up to $1000 on approved satellite phone purchases. Consumers travelling or working in areas of Australia without mobile coverage can receive a 50 per cent rebate, capped at $700.

Applicants will still have two months to purchase a handset from the date at which their application is approved, and will ensure the scheme stays within budget with all invoices paid by 30 June 2014.

In recent years the market for mobile handsets has become more competitive with the availability of a cheaper handset. Four years ago, the average post-subsidy cost of a satellite phone for a consumer travelling regularly to remote Australia was around $1100. Today, a satellite phone handset can be bought for as little as $800 without any subsidy.

The satellite phone market also has more flexible and affordable call plans, including pre-paid options which avoid the need for consumers to enter into a lengthy contract. Recent technical developments include hybrid devices which can be used to convert smartphones for satellite use.

The scheme was introduced more than a decade ago to make the purchase of a satellite phone more affordable for Australians who live, work or travel extensively in areas without terrestrial mobile phone coverage. Established by the Coalition Government in 2002, the scheme has assisted over 26,000 individuals and organisations including many indigenous organisations and small businesses.

The Government understands the continued importance of communications access and infrastructure for regional and remote communities across Australia. This is why the Government has committed $100 million to further extend terrestrial mobile coverage. This will mean that over 99 per cent of premises will have terrestrial mobile coverage.

The deadline for final subsidy applications to be submitted to the department is 31 March 2014. This will allow applicants two months to purchase a handset from the date at which their application is approved, and will ensure all invoices paid by 30 June 2014.

The Satellite Subsidy Scheme closed in June 2014