The Federal Government Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) has reclaimed almost $1 million from two internet providers which allegedly misused a government-funded program to provide broadband services to people in remote areas.
The Australian Broadband Guarantee program is designed to help residential and small business premises access a "metro-comparable" broadband service regardless of where they are located. Two providers had allegedly manipulated data used to decide which customers were eligible to receive subsidised services.
In December, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy issued a media release stating his department was conducting full audits of both providers and had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police.
Liberal Senator Nick Minchin asked in February whether the department had since reclaimed costs. The question was put on notice.
"The matter involved $864,771, all of which has been recovered by the department," the DBCDE said this month in answer to Minchin's question.
The department said the manipulation involved the movement of a location pin on the department's online Broadband Service Locator. The tool allows for people to determine whether they are eligible for an internet subsidy.
The tool's data is maintained by the department, it said; however, the responsibility for accurately moving the location pin to reflect the actual location of a customer's premises "lies with the customer or the registered [Australian Broadband Guarantee] provider on the customer's behalf".
"All pin movements are recorded by the department and are fully auditable," the department said.
The two registered providers involved in the alleged fraud were continuing to provide services pending the outcome of the relevant investigations.
"The department is conducting a full performance and compliance audit of both companies and will consider the need for any further compliance action pending the outcome of these audits and the outcome of the [Australian Federal Police] investigation," the department said.
"Both companies have independently acted to put in place compliance measures to prevent a recurrence of such instances."