Thursday, 14 May 2020
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019, Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019; Second Reading
When we were last debating this legislation, I was reflecting on the fact that Australia has the most expensive broadband of all OECD countries and that we should be seeking to improve affordability of broadband access in this country rather than reducing it and that's particularly relevant now given that we've got a large number of people working from home and we've got a lot of people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic that we're all currently living through. Ultimately, one thing I hope will become apparent to more people in this place as a result of the pandemic and associated restrictions that are currently in place is that broadband should be regarded as an essential public service in this country. It's absolutely an essential utility and the quicker the government can come to grips with that concept, the more connected we'll become as a country and the better and more affordable broadband services will be. The Australian Greens believe that, rather than the way forward proposed in this legislation, the most equitable option for funding these matters would be a broad based funding pool, directly funded through the Commonwealth budget. I want to place on the record that that's been acknowledged by both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission as well as the Productivity Commission.
I spoke about broadband affordability but I also want to speak very briefly about broadband speed in Australia. We are currently ranked 68th in the world for average broadband speed. That is simply not good enough for a rich country like Australia. It is in large part a result of the decision by the LNP government under former Prime Minister Turnbull, when we had former Senator Fifield as our communications minister, to cruel the broadband plan that had been conceived and put in place and was beginning to be rolled out by the Australian Labor Party. We need to make sure that we've got more-affordable broadband in Australia and we need to make sure that we've got faster connectivity in this country.
Acting Deputy President Askew, I would ask that at the end of this debate the question on the second reading of the bills be divided. The Australian Greens support one of the bills but not the other, and we'd welcome the opportunity to vote on that basis.
I rise to speak on these two bills, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019. I will start by giving a shout out to a wonderful organisation called BIRRR—that is, Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia. It is a group of very committed regional Queenslanders, in particular, although I know there are members outside Queensland. It was set up by Kristy Sparrow and Kylie Stretton, and the work that these two ladies and their members have done to advocate and push for better internet for those who live in I suppose the inner part of Australia—the rural, regional and remote parts of Australia—is just fantastic. More grease and more power to their elbows to continue advocating on behalf of Queenslanders, especially, who are as important as the rest of country, Madam Acting Deputy President Askew. I don't particularly care about the rest of the country; all I care about is Queensland. Please don't take it personally, for the quite a few Tasmanians in the room. We are the states' house and I'm here to represent my state.
These bills that we have before us today—
An opposition senator interjecting—
No, no! This is just Senator McGrath standing up on behalf of regional Queenslanders and advocating for their interests, and I'm sure you'd all support me in fighting for regional Queenslanders and for all Queenslanders. It is important to set in context the space that we live in now, in terms of the wonderful thing called the internet: how it powers us, how it is driving business and enterprise and how it is driving how we look at life in terms of our recreation and our business. Twenty to 25 years ago, when I was at university, the internet wasn't a thing. Mobile phones really weren't a thing. But now they are a thing for everybody from toddlers—my nieces, Josephine and Sofia, are four years old and 15 months old, and the four-year-old is very adept at managing and iPad, scarily so, much more than I am—to those at the other end of the spectrum, such as my parents, who are in their 70s, who get cranky when they cannot access the internet and cannot access mobile phone coverage.
On the issue of mobile phone coverage, I don't like being particularly partisan in this place, but I will give a shout out to what the Liberal-National government has done on the issue of mobile phone black-spots. It is probably one of the best policies—certainly one of the top five policies—that this government has pushed for since it was elected in 2013. Previously, under the Labor government, there was no funding for mobile phone black-spots, but under the coalition government hundreds and hundreds of mobile phone black-spots around Australia have been remedied and fixed. I know someone whose office is on the Sunshine Coast, in the bustling town of Nambour but lives out on the Darling Downs, which is a good three hour and 20 minute drive from door to door. I know how important it is to have mobile phone coverage, and I have noticed the improvement in mobile phone coverage when I drive around Queensland. But there is still lots to do, and the government knows that. Only in the last couple of weeks the Liberal-National government announced a further round of funding for mobile phone black spots.
Too often some senators on the other benches don't appreciate the difficulty of those who live in regional parts of Australia. They probably—I don't want to be too negative—take for granted their own access, whether it's mobile phone coverage or the internet, because they do live in cities, whereas we on this side of the chamber are a diverse bunch. We are dispersed around our states and live what we talk about in terms of understanding the issues. I know that when I drive from Warwick to Stanthorpe I won't have mobile phone coverage during certain parts of the trip. When I drive to Brisbane, I go through a place called Cunninghams Gap, and I know there's no mobile phone coverage there. But it has improved dramatically since the election of the Liberal-National government back in 2013, and these two bills continue the reforms in this area.
It's important to put in context what the coalition inherited in relation to the NBN when we came into power in 2013. After six years of Labor, just 51,000 users were connected to the NBN. Effectively, one in 50 premises had actually been connected. We look at the achievement of this government in how we've pushed, reformed and built upon the NBN, because Labor's fibre-to-the-premise policy would have cost $30 billion more and taken six to eight years longer to complete. This is the NBN policy that former Senator Conroy, if this is to be believed—and I think it is if you think of Labor's approach to business plans and economic management—wrote on the back of a coaster. I understand it was a beer-stained coaster. Such was the disregard for the taxpayers of Australia, who would fund Labor's policy, and such was the disregard for the end users of Labor's NBN policy, the people of Australia. They were, in typical Labor fashion, promised this gold-plated elephant, but in fact, sadly, they were just delivered the scrapings-out from the elephant stables. Under Labor's policy, broadband bills would have increased by up to $43 per month. That's $500 a year. For Queenslanders, that's a lot of money.
Imagine if Labor had stayed in power or, God forbid, if Bill Shorten had won the last election. Just imagine the dire state the Australian economy would have been in as we approached the coronavirus. One of the reasons that the national cabinet and the Prime Minister have been able to focus on saving lives and protecting livelihoods is the economic management of the Liberal and National parties. Those on the other side probably don't really give a good old hoot about economic management, because it's something that other people worry about. But to fund policies like the NBN and ensure that we have the infrastructure to take Australia forward, whether in calm waters or in stormy waters, you need to make sure that you have sensible economic policies and a sensible, sober approach to how the economy and the budget are run. You cannot keep on spending, because you need to make sure you have money in the bank and the debt is paid down for when storms come up, as they have—the most serious storm to hit Australia in a hundred years.
So that's why it's a concern when we talk about the NBN and when we look at the different parties' approach to the internet and to telecommunications. On this side, we took an evidence based approach. We looked at how it could be funded. We looked at what could be best achieved for the taxpayers of Australia, who are funding it—thank you, Mr and Mrs Taxpayer—but also the end users. Too often we forget about the end users—sorry, too often those in the other parties forget about the end users. They just see them as collateral or people who might be swayed by glitzy election policies.
I go back to what was happening when we came into power in 2013. Labor had paid $6 billion for the NBN to pass just three per cent of premises in Australia. The rollout was very poorly managed. Contractors downed tools and stopped construction in four states. Under Labor, the NBN missed every rollout target it set for itself. Under the leadership of the Liberal-National coalition, the NBN rollout is on schedule and on budget, and the government is rolling out better broadband across Australia in the fastest and most affordable way so Australians can get access to fast broadband sooner, at a price they can afford.
This has particularly hit home over the last couple of months since the coronavirus epidemic came to Australia, with the lockdown that has been imposed by the various premiers under the leadership of the national cabinet, because so many Australians, including senators of all colours in this chamber, have been working from home, dealing with boisterous members of their families and dealing with the broader issues of trying to get on with the job and access broadband internet and telecommunications. We've really come to terms with how the internet has become such a life form for many Australians that, if it were switched off, they would have difficulty operating. That is, I suppose, a reflection upon modern society. It is important to have a government like the Liberal-National government that can deliver the internet, because that's what the end consumers want, and that's what the NBN has been able to do. Research by a company called AlphaBeta shows Australia has one of the most affordable markets for broadband; we are ranked seventh for affordability out of 22 countries analysed. The NBN helped drive over $1 billion worth of additional economic activity in 2017.
More women are becoming their own bosses with the NBN. I go back to the shout-out I gave to BIRRR, to Kristy and Kylie; Kristy, who I know personally, lives on a station near Alpha in Queensland. This is important in terms of the empowerment Australians can receive from being able to access the internet, so that the disparity between those who live in the city and those who live in regional Queensland is on par in terms of access to information and access to modern society. These two bills are a small part in helping progress that.
In regard to the previous speaker: I don't think I've heard so much of what you might find in a paddock with a herd of cows in a long time, but let me know!
Senator Colbeck interjecting—
I'm not talking about grass, just to be clear, Senator Colbeck; I'm talking about the excrement from the dairy herd. Talk about a rewrite of history—I mean, fair dinkum! I don't know where those opposite come off sometimes.
I spoke about these bills, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019, in the previous parliament. But the government let them lapse, so here we are debating them yet again. This third-term Liberal government's handling of the rollout of the NBN has been, we know, a disaster. Mr Abbott gave the then opposition communications spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, the job of destroying the NBN. Well, I will give credit where credit is due: Mr Turnbull and the current Liberal government have done a great job carrying out those instructions. They promised to deliver the NBN for $29.5 billion, and it has now cost $51 billion. They promised everyone would have access to minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second by 2016—a goal they certainly missed. They also promised the multitechnology mix would be faster and cheaper; instead, it has been slower and more expensive. The end result is that there are many premises on the fibre-to-the-node network that cannot even get speeds of 25 megabits per second. That's particularly so in regional areas, where the speeds are often considerably lower than promised—especially in the evenings and during other peak times.
This government have spent $50 billion on a network that cannot even deliver the minimum speeds they promised. It goes to show the lack of foresight of this government. Instead of building a network for the future, they built a network from the past—which is where a lot of them like to live. They could not see that Australia's internet demand would rise into the future. Now we've come to the pointy end. The COVID-19 crisis has seen a massive increase in demand for data over the NBN. In cities and regional areas across Australia, including in our home state of Tasmania—I note there are four Tasmanian senators in this chamber at the moment—demand for data has spiked. A figure reported in the media in April showed that data demand in March increased by more than 70 to 80 per cent during daytime hours compared to figures calculated at the end of February. In just a month, demand jumped by 80 per cent. This government did not have the vision to see that a modern national broadband network would have to deal with significant amounts of video calls, video streaming, access to cloud services and applications. This government did not have the vision to see there would be events that would put a sudden strain on the network.
Labor's plan was for a futureproof, fibre-to-the-premises rollout for nearly all Australians. But the government recklessly destroyed that plan, simply because Labor had proposed it. They made a number of hacks—utilising infrastructure that should have been retired, reworking copper not fit for task and overcrowding the fixed-wireless network—leading to more congestion, slower speeds and, ironically, higher cost over the long term. It is people in regional Australia who are bearing the burden of this government's ineptitude—the people who the Nationals have again failed to represent. We have recently discovered that this government cut $200 million in funding from the regional fixed-wireless network. Worse still, NBN Co tried to conceal that this had occurred and then tried to deny it once they were caught out. I'm sure the Nationals in this chamber are thrilled to know that once again their government, their partners, didn't stand up for regional Australia.
The fixed-wireless network is an important component of the NBN and was always part of Labor's plan for a small proportion of Australians. However, this government and NBN Co claimed they would be delivering 100-megabit-per-second speeds. Now they can only guarantee a minimum of six megabits per second. Recently we heard NBN Co touting the benefits of 100-megabit-per-second speeds. Yes, 100-megabit-per-second speeds would be wonderful. Most of my constituents would be ecstatic to get such speeds. It's just a pity that only one in four premises on the fibre-to-the-node network can actually access those speeds—only one in four, a quarter.
The copper, the last section from the node to people's homes, is just not up to the task. It's like driving from Hobart to Launceston, only to get out of your car in Perth, just south of Hobart, and bike the rest of the way; copper was never designed to carry this kind of network. We've seen the cost of remediating the copper network blow out by $600 million. Wasn't this meant to be cheaper? The cost of building the HFC network has blown out by billions. It has been slower and more expensive to deploy than fibre to the premises. This, too, was a technology choice that was meant to be cheaper.
The NBN was meant to be a new kind of technology for Australia. When the then Labor government decided to build a national broadband network, it did so with the aim of extending universal broadband coverage to regional and remote Australia. This was an important initiative, a true Labor reform, and one of which we remain very proud. But, instead, this government cut corners and tried to patch up the old copper and paper over the cracks. As my dad used to say, 'You should have just done it right the first time.' But the government decided that a dodgy con-job of a network was better than letting Labor take credit for a truly 21st-century fibre network.
The end result of this government's incompetence and its petty politics is the bill we are debating today, a bill to introduce the government's broadband tax—a broadband tax being introduced in the name of regional funding, while cutting regional investment at the same time. Rather than investing in the regions, the government is using this tax revenue to offset cost blowouts in HFC technology deployed in the inner-city areas. This is the same HFC technology, the rollout of which had to be halted because the service was not reliable.
The costs of this network have blown out for the fourth year in a row. It's no secret that the Liberals did not want the NBN satellites to be launched. They mocked the idea that NBN Co would own and launch its own satellites. Under the original fibre plan, the regional rollout was fully cost recovered. Under the multi-technology mix, the NBN has cost more to build, costs more to operate and delivers slower and less reliable speeds. Furthermore, the MTM will require future upgrades that were not necessary under the original fibre plan.
This decision to extend high-speed broadband to unprofitable areas was funded through a universal wholesale pricing regime, and, as it stands, the internal cross-subsidy Labor established amounts to more than $700 million per annum. This meant ABN revenues from services provided in the cities and suburbs would help cross-subsidise higher cost services delivered over wireless and satellites in the region. There was no contemplation of a broadband levy and an internal cross-subsidy; it was one of the other, not both. Yet now the government wants to have both, and the reason for this is quite clear. Since this levy was first formulated, the cost for the fixed wireless and satellite network has not changed. The cost is effectively what was forecast. The key change has been the abandonment of fibre to the premises on the pretence that Australia would get a much cheaper, albeit inferior, multi-technology mix. Instead, we have a more expensive, $51 billion multi-technology mix that does less than the original plan. This inferior multi-technology mix, according to NBN Co's own analysis, will cost $200 million more per annum to maintain and operate, and generates $3 million less in revenue relative to a fibre-to-the-premises network. That is a $500 million per annum earnings gap. To put it another way, because of the decision by the Liberal Party to abandon a fibre NBN, in place, for copper and HFC, Australian taxpayers are up to $500 million worse off every year. That is a staggering figure, and this is the reason why the government needs to implement this additional tax. The copper NBN looks increasingly exposed to competition from 5G. A full-fibre network would have been upgradable as technology improved and able to better compete with emerging wireless technologies now and into the future.
The coalition's 2013 election commitment to deliver the NBN for $29.5 billion and complete it by 2016 is nothing short of a very cruel hoax. The cost of the NBN project increased from $29.5 billion to $51 billion, with a completion date of 2020. As it stands, the NBN is $20 billion over budget and four years behind what the Liberals promised.
This bill proposes to apply a new broadband levy of $7.10 per month on households and businesses connected to a non-NBN network. This will add at least $84 to the annual bill of up to 500,000 residential and business services. The government even wanted to allow its levy to increase to $10 a month. The broadband tax proposed by the Morrison government is both poorly designed and highly regrettable. It has been criticised by the ACCC and the Productivity Commission, and it is disappointing that prior to the 2013 election the Liberals encouraged other companies to deploy networks and compete directly against the NBN, in the full knowledge that this would undercut the NBN business model.
Labor is committed to a sustainable funding arrangement to support and improve NBN services in regional Australia. There is no substitute for a first-class fibre NBN, with sound, long-term economics to support a sustainable funding mechanism. These failures of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have placed pressure on the economics of the NBN, and it's appropriate to ensure there is a level playing field.
One effect of this broadband levy is that it introduces a price signal that will deter inefficient duplication of the NBN infrastructure and deter cherry-picking of profitable parts of the NBN footprint. Fixed-line operators currently competing in areas the NBN Co intends to service, or those who are considering deploying infrastructure to compete directly with NBN Co down the track, must understand they would be required to make a proportional contribution to support the obligation NBN Co has to service the regions. NBN Co has a unique obligation to service parts of the country that are unprofitable to serve.
Labor supports the establishment of a statutory infrastructure provider regime outlined in the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019. This will provide additional certainty that, as we move beyond the initial NBN rollout, every Australian home and small business can continue to access a high-speed broadband connection. This is a natural extension of the arrangements Labor put in place nearly 10 years ago through a statement of expectations issued to the NBN Co board. The statement of expectations required NBN Co to make high-speed broadband available to all Australians, regardless of where they live or work. That has happened, and this bill provides certainty that it will continue to happen.
After more than a decade in power, John Howard and his allies in the National Party had left Australia in a broadband backwater. It was Labor that established the principle that all Australians should have access to modern telecommunications infrastructure, and it was Labor that established the National Broadband Network to put this principle into practice. Universal broadband access is a Labor initiative and a Labor achievement, but the Liberals tried to stop it. It was only through the perseverance of the Labor Party and the Australian people that those Luddites opposite were forced to accept a national broadband network as a reality.
Labor will not oppose these bills in this chamber. There were much better and more efficient ways to achieve the government's aims than the bill that is currently before the house, but the government's incompetence and lack of vision have left us in the mess we are in. Regional Australians know that, when it comes to broadband, only Labor will be there to consistently deliver on their behalf. They know that, despite their public relations spin, the Liberals and the Nationals have sold them out time and time again. They voted against universal broadband. They overcrowded the fixed wireless towers so they could skimp on the cost. Just recently they cut $200 million in funding from the regional fixed wireless network. And they didn't even want to launch the satellites. Universal broadband in Australia is an achievement of the Labor Party and the will of the Australian people. As we have done for over a decade, we will continue to put consumers and the regions front and centre of our policymaking.
I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019. As we've heard, these bills work in conjunction with each other to do two key things. They legislate certainty that all premises in Australia can continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure beyond the NBN rollout. This obligation already exists, but this gives it certainty, and Labor supports this. The bills also introduce a telecommunications levy that will add $7 per month to the bills of households and businesses on non-NBN networks. While highly critical of the lack of vision by various coalition governments that have led to this situation, Labor will not oppose this levy.
Labor supports legislating a universal right to broadband access, as this was the principle that we first established when the NBN was announced. So we support the establishment of a statutory infrastructure provider regime as is outlined in the bill. It will provide improved certainty that, as we move beyond the initial NBN rollout, every Australian home and small business can continue to access high-speed broadband connection. Labor in government established the National Broadband Network to bring this principle to reality. Universal broadband access is a Labor concept and a Labor achievement that the Liberals tried to prevent at every turn. It took them many years to come to the party and sign up to the principle of universal access, but, in the end, they had no choice. It is the only reasonable approach in a modern Australia with a modern economy.
The NBN, a game-changing national infrastructure project for the 21st century and possibly beyond—that was the vision of the Labor government after winning the 2007 election, the vision of a connected nation able to embrace technology, communicate from remote and regional areas through to high density urban areas, able to do business in new ways, able to teach and learn in new ways, able to interact with the rest of the world in new ways. Try, if you can, to imagine what the last six weeks of COVID-19 crisis would have been like without the NBN: all those Zoom and FaceTime and Skype meetings, all those precious family connections online, all the Zoom conferences, meetings and lectures with literally hundreds in attendance, all those businesses that were able to quickly and innovatively jump online and develop online shops, services and home delivery, the telehealth consultations—most important at this time—and whole television and radio programs that could not have happened without the vision of a connected Australia. Every Labor representative from then and now, and all the workers that are still working daily to connect homes and businesses, deserve our thanks for pursuing that vision.
Now we must turn to the so-called levy. First up, let's call it for what it is. It's a tax. It's a new tax—a new tax from a Prime Minister and Treasurer who've stood up in parliament many times to claim that the coalition does not put up taxes. It is a $7 per month tax on internet services that will impact up to 500,000 residential and business services, some of them consumers and first home buyers in regional Australia.
The government claims they're doing this in the name of regional Australia, but this is a long way from the truth. Let's be sure to remember that the Liberals initially opposed the NBN satellite and ridiculed the idea of the company owning and operating it. They congratulated themselves for oversubscribing the NBN fixed wireless networks, which led to congestion in some areas. Further, in October 2019, it was revealed that shareholder ministers had quietly signed off on a $200 million reduction in investment for a regional fixed wireless network relative to the previous corporate plan. So this government is introducing a broadband tax in the name of regional funding, while reducing regional investment at the same time—an extraordinary contradiction. This bill proposes to apply this new levy on households and businesses connected to non-NBN networks—a poorly designed and highly regrettable tax that has been criticised by the ACCC and the Productivity Commission.
In 2009, the then Labor government decided to build a national broadband network that would extend universal coverage of broadband to regional and remote Australia. This decision to extend high-speed broadband to unprofitable areas was funded through the universal wholesale pricing regime. This internal cross-subsidy amounts to more than $700 million per annum. This meant that NBN revenues from services provided in the cities and suburbs would help cross-subsidise higher cost services delivered over wireless and satellites in the regions. There was no contemplation of having a broadband levy and an internal cross-subsidy. Yet now the government wants to have both. Why the change? The key change has been the abandonment of fibre, on the pretence that Australia would get a much cheaper, albeit inferior, multitechnology mix. But we haven't. We have a more expensive, $51 billion, multitechnology mix that unfortunately cost more and does less than the original plan. These older technologies, according to NBN Co's own analysis, cost $200 million more per annum to maintain and operate, and generate $300 million less in revenue relative to a fibre to the premises network. So there is a $500 million per annum earnings gap—a staggering figure.
Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull decided to spend $51 billion on a technologically and economically inferior NBN that cost more and does less. The NBN is $20 billion over budget and four years behind what the Liberals promised to deliver. Prior to the 2013 election Malcolm Turnbull and the current Minister for Communications encouraged other companies to deploy networks and compete directly against the NBN with full knowledge this would undercut the NBN business model. They set out to sabotage the NBN and now want to introduce a tax to protect themselves against what they began.
The irony is that the minister now wants to increase prices for Australians who are on those competing networks that he once encouraged, some of which are in the regions themselves. However, we of the Labor Party must have the decency to talk straight on this issue. The reality has placed further pressures on the economics of the NBN. Therefore, while the levy is regrettable, Labor will not oppose it because it would undermine the economics of the NBN. We are committed to a sustainable funding arrangement to support and improve NBN services in regional Australia.
We do have a Labor amendment to the bill, which seeks to do two things. Firstly, on the topic of the modelling underpinning the charge, there does remain scope to improve transparency around the charge level and there is broad agreement that the modelling undertaken in 2015 is based on inputs that are no longer accurate and could readily be updated. The government has had two years to update the model but declined to do so. It should also be noted that recommendation 18 of the NBN joint standing committee was that the model be updated in late 2018. This recommendation was agreed by government members, Labor and the crossbench. It was never acted upon. The legislation we are now debating is based on work performed half a decade ago when the NBN fixed wireless and satellite network rollouts were still in their infancy. Today the fixed wireless and satellite networks are largely complete. The real-world costs are better understood.
It was not Labor's preference to deal with this matter through a legislative amendment but, given that the government is not inclined to act, this was the next step that was available. Therefore, Labor will introduce an amendment to require the levy modelling to be updated and a report produced within 150 days. The responsibility for this task will be placed in the hands of the ACCC. The purpose of the proposed report is to provide updated costings using the same model and methodology that was developed by the Bureau of Communications Research while taking into account changes to inputs and assumptions that have occurred since that amount was first determined. This is not a complex exercise given that the model has already been developed and data is available to update it. To provide greater insight into what proportion of the levy charge derives from sunk costs and what proportion derives from forecast future costs, the amendment proposes that the report also provide broken down estimates for historical losses, future losses and total expected net losses.
The other aspect of the ALP amendment is to improve NBN rollout data on the national map website. This builds on an existing ALP amendment to make rollout data available on the national map, which has subsequently been incorporated into this bill. In closing, Labor supports the SIP scheme and welcomes its passage. There are aspects of the levy which are regrettable but we do not want to undermine the economics of NBN. We will support this package and hope our amendments receive the report of the Senate.
The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019 implement a comprehensive three-part package to improve the regulatory framework for the supply of high-speed broadband. These bills will significantly improve the provision of high-speed broadband in Australia through the following three measures: firstly, by making carrier separation rules for high-speed residential networks more effective but also more flexible, and giving carriers greater scope to invest in superfast networks and also to compete; secondly, by introducing new statutory infrastructure provider obligations on the NBN Co, and also others, to support the ongoing delivery of high-speed broadband services; and, thirdly, by establishing the Regional Broadband Scheme to provide transparent and equitable long-term funding for NBN Co satellite and fixed wireless networks that mainly serve our regional areas.
The government's historic telecommunications reform package ensures all Australians are able to participate and share in the social and economic benefits of one of our nation's largest infrastructure projects. Consumers will benefit from the statutory infrastructure provider measures, which ensure all Australians can access high-speed quality internet services. The rules set out baseline standards for these services: peak download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and peak upload speeds of at least five megabits per second. These services also need to support voice communications on fixed line and also fixed wireless services.
In combination with the statutory infrastructure provider regime the Regional Broadband Scheme will provide the certainty that regional Australians want and deserve—that essential affordable broadband services will be available to them and will remain available to them in the future. The Regional Broadband Scheme will level the playing field by spreading the cost of Australia's investment in regional broadband services equitably across the NBN Co and also NBN compatible networks. It will do that by requiring all carriers to pay $7.10 per month for each premise on their network with a high-speed fixed line broadband service. The charge is capped at $7.10, indexed to CPI, to provide more regulatory and investment certainty but also to support market competition. The telecommunications reform package strengthens competition and it also seeks to ensure equitable access. The government's proposed amendments to the telecommunications legislation amendment bill would update the commencement of statutory infrastructure provider standards and rules in light of the passage of time. These instruments can be used to fine-tune the operation of the statutory infrastructure provider provisions.
The government's amendments to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 would also change the designated start date for the Regional Broadband Scheme to 1 January 2021, instead of 1 July, following royal assent. This recognises the impact of COVID-19 on the telecommunications industry, and it will also provide certainty to carriers and regulators about when their obligations under the scheme commence. The government accepts the amendments proposed by the opposition to the Regional Broadband Scheme on the basis that they will provide an opportunity for the ACCC to review the modelling for the scheme prior to its commencement and will also improve the transparency of public rollout information. The government's complementary amendment also makes sure that the ACCC will have access to current information from carriers as an input to its report. These amendments do not impact on the government's original policy intent for this legislation.
I also take this opportunity to respond on behalf of the government to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee's recommendations and the comments of the opposition senators, and I note that they recommended that the package be passed by the parliament. First of all, in relation to the issue raised on enhanced transparency of the NBN Co's funding arrangements, the government recognises the importance of providing a high level of transparency over the funding arrangements for NBN Co's fixed wireless and satellite networks and also of the NBN Co's expenditure on these networks. To this end, the bill contains a number of provisions to ensure transparency in the operation of the Regional Broadband Scheme and in the use of funds raised under the scheme by the NBN Co. Proposed new section 102ZB will impose mandatory annual public reporting requirements on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to report the total amount of charge payments received. There will also be electronic registers for the contracts and grants for the funding of fixed wireless broadband and satellite broadband, which will provide comprehensive details of the contracts and also the grants awarded under section 80.
The telecommunications legislation amendment bill also included the power for the secretary of the department to specify terms and conditions in the contract or grants to eligible funding recipients, such as NBN Co, established under section 80. Under section 87 the minister has the power to make rules by legislative instrument for the secretary to comply with in relation to the performance of their functions or the exercise of their powers. This could include requirements to improve transparency. These rules are also subject to parliamentary scrutiny and to disallowance. In the interest of further enhancing transparency of NBN Co's funding arrangements, in line with the committee's recommendation, the government also intends to use the existing provisions in section 87 of the bill to require NBN Co to provide ongoing public reporting on its expenditure on its fixed wireless and satellite networks. This will allow for increased scrutiny, by the parliament and by the Australian public, of expenditure by the NBN Co of moneys raised under the scheme.
Secondly, in relation to the comments on the Regional Broadband Scheme costings, the government does support updating the costings for the Regional Broadband Scheme. The government notes that the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charges Bill 2019 requires the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to review the charge at least once every five years and provide advice to the minister on the setting of charges for the Regional Broadband Scheme. The government would support requesting the ACCC to commence a broader review of the costings for the Regional Broadband Scheme soon after commencement of the scheme, with the aim of providing advice to the minister on the cost component of the charge.
Thirdly, in relation to the committee comment on the proposal to delay commencement of the Regional Broadband Scheme, the government does recognise that carriers need time to prepare to implement the Regional Broadband Scheme charge, given the impact of COVID-19 on the telecommunications industry. For this reason, the government is of the view that commencement of the scheme should be deferred by six months, as I've already stated, to 1 January next year.
Lastly, in relation to the comments recommending the government develop a road map for how the universal service obligation, or USO, and the Regional Broadband Scheme can be consolidated and harmonised over time. This is work that the government already has underway. In fact, the government's decision in 2017 to establish a universal service guarantee, or USG, which provides for the sustainable and legislated delivery of voice, payphone and broadband services across Australia for the first time, is actually all about integrating and guaranteeing these services over time.
In conclusion, the government has indicated it will continue to work with industry and consumers on the way to improve the USG over time. This remains our intention and this is what we are doing. The telecommunications reform package is a big win for consumers. That is why the bills are so strongly supported by consumer groups and regional stakeholders. That support includes the National Farmers' Federation, the Regional, Rural and Remote Communications Coalition, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the National Rural Health Alliance and many other regional stakeholder groups. These bills are also a win for industry, with more opportunities for competition at both the network and the retail level.
On behalf of the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts and the government, I would like to thank members of the opposition and also the crossbench for their very constructive engagement throughout the process and for their support of these bills. These important reforms ensure that all Australians will have access to affordable, high-speed and quality internet services, which they need to fully participate in the digital society. I commend these bills to the Senate.
I've been asked to put the question on these two bills separately. The first question is that the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2019 be read a second time.
Question agreed to.
The question is now that the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2019 be read a second time.
Question agreed to.