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ETU wants rural NBN tax to be paid by government instead of consumers

The Electrical Trades Union also wants NBN hauled before the joint committee to explain the 'illegal situation' involving an employee being present during the AFP raids a year ago.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) has struck out at the company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN) across Australia by saying NBN is placing economics ahead of consumers, and that the proposed AU$7-a-month levy on all fixed broadband consumers be paid out of government coffers.

In a submission [PDF] to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the ETU said it backs the idea of regional customers paying the same for broadband as those in metropolitan areas, but disagreed with who should bear the cost.

"The government has admitted that the costs associated with the rural levy will be entirely or substantially passed onto consumers, and the providers that would be subject to the levy have expressed serious concern about how the levy will affect their ongoing financial viability," the union said.

"We do not believe that cost should be simply passed on to consumers. Government should directly fund the difference, as happens with electricity prices in many jurisdictions."

Citing the energy industry again, the ETU said NBN's current pricing model will hit affordability for lower income consumers, and therefore a "price safety net" needs to be established through regulation.

The Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill, which would impose the AU$7-a-month levy, is currently scheduled to be introduced into Parliament in the coming weeks. The government said previously that the charge was needed to pay for NBN's net cost of AU$9.8 billion over the next 30 years to run non-profitable fixed-wireless and satellite services while competing in metropolitan areas.

"As a retail service provider over NBN's network, TPG offers a 100 megabit per second service for approximately AU$100 per month. TPG's wholly owned subsidiary Wondercom offers an identical service over TPG's network infrastructure for approximately AU$70 per month," the Department of Communications said in December.

"As currently structured, NBN is at a competitive disadvantage to comparable providers that do not face similar costs of providing fixed-wireless and satellite broadband services."

In its submission, the union also called for NBN to be appear before the joint committee to explain why a member of its staff was present at the May 2016 raids on the offices of former Senator and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Even though the documents seized in the raid were later deemed to be covered by parliamentary privilege, an NBN staff member took dozens of pictures of seized documents during the raid. The ETU said although the Privileges Committee could not haul NBN in front of it to explain the issue, the joint committee could.

"We urge the committee to call on NBN Co to appear before the committee to answer further questions about how this illegal and inappropriate situation was allowed to occur, and who within NBN Co authorised and/or directed these actions."

NBN said at the time it had followed the instructions of the Australian Federal Police.

The ETU also recommended that any changes to the telecommunications universal service obligation occur only once the NBN rollout is complete.

"Detailed modelling of price impacts of TUSO removal should be undertaken urgently," it said. "This should include modelling on NBN costs for consumers in the absence of a TUSO."

Previous submissions made to the joint committee have called NBN's satellite services "technically inferior", and should be a last resort, while the Queensland government said the use of "lower-grade" NBN services for those living in regional and remote areas of Australia is unacceptable and inequitable.

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