The Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS)
The Regional Broadband Scheme (the RBS or the Scheme) was established to ensure long-term transparent and sustainable funding arrangements are in place in order to provide essential broadband services to regional, rural and remote Australians.
The first eligible financial year and reporting period for the RBS is from 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021.
The RBS charge
Under the Scheme, carriers will be required to pay $7.10 per month* for each residential or business premises on their network supplied with a designated broadband service over a local access line owned by the carrier or for which the carrier is responsible under a nominated carrier declaration. Carriers with fewer than 2,000 premises for the month are exempt from paying the charge for that month.
The charge applies to all premises serviced by fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), fibre-to-the-basement (FTTB), fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks, whether the service is supplied by a carrier, or by another carriage service provider using the carrier’s network.
In the first 5 years of the Scheme, an individual carrier (or if within a group, the carrier nominated as the ‘controller’) can claim a reduction in the total number of chargeable premises associated with a local access line for either:
- the first 25,000 potentially concessional premises that are not recently connected greenfield premises; or
- the first 55,000 potentially chargeable premises that are recently connected greenfield premises.
*This amount is for the first eligible financial year. It is then indexed annually to CPI in the second and subsequent financial years.
Reporting to the ACMA under section 100 of the TCPSS Act
Under section 100 of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999, carriers need to report on the number of premises supplied with a designated broadband service using a local access line owned by the carrier, or for which the carrier is responsible under a nominated carrier declaration.
The designated broadband service may be provided by the carrier or another carriage service provider using the carrier’s local access lines.
The annual reporting requirement starts in the first eligible financial year, from the designated start date of 1 January 2021 to 30 June 2021.
Each year, for the first 5 years of the Scheme, carriers are required to self-report to the ACMA the monthly number of chargeable premises, potentially concessional premises and recently connected greenfield premises, to allow the ACMA to assess their individual charge liability and collect the charge on behalf of the Commonwealth.
Carriers must also report on their associates in relation to the control of a telecommunications network, a company or a local access line for each month during the financial year. This information will facilitate the ACMA’s ability to enforce the Scheme.
Carriers with only exempt premises or exempt lines do not have to report about those premises and lines for the specific month that they are exempt. For example, if a carrier has 1,800 premises in January, 2,001 in February and over 2,000 in the remaining months of the relevant financial year, the carrier must report on the number of chargeable premises for each month of the reporting period from February.
Carrier reports must be provided using a form approved by the ACMA. Each report must set out:
- the number of chargeable premises a carrier has each month of the year
- the number of potentially concessional premises a carrier has each month of the year
- the number of recently connected greenfield premises a carrier has each month of the year
- information about any associates the carrier had in relation to control of a telecommunications network, a company, or a local access line during a month in the financial year; and
- if the carrier was the controller of an associated group, a statement to that effect, details about the members of the associated group and the circumstances that resulted in the person being the controller of the associated group.
The first report for the 6 months to 30 June 2021 is due by 31 October 2021. The penalty for failing to lodge a report is 50 penalty units. The value of a penalty point is $222, effective from 1 July 2020.
Under the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Telco Act), a carrier is an entity that holds a carrier licence granted by the ACMA. There are a number of conditions which apply to carriers under the Telco Act and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999.
Local access lines
A local access line is a line that is part of the infrastructure of a local access network. A line does not form part of a local access line to the extent that the line is on the customer side of the boundary of a telecommunications network, unless that line is used to supply a carriage service to a unit in a multi-unit building such as an apartment block or shopping centre.
Carriers may need to get their own advice to determine whether a particular line is part of the infrastructure of a local access network and therefore a local access line. It is not intended that transmission lines would be caught by the definition.
Chargeable premises associated with a local access line
If a carrier owns (or is the nominated carrier in relation to) a local access line at any time during the month (comprising the whole or a part of a month), through which any carriage service provider supplies a designated broadband service to premises for the whole or part of that month, then those premises are chargeable premises of that local access line for that month and may incur the RBS charge.
Carriers will be liable to pay the charge for each chargeable premises on their networks during the whole or a part of each month in a financial year. Chargeable premises are associated with a local access line of a carrier if they are potentially chargeable premises and are not exempt premises for the carrier for the month.
When a charge applies
The charge is only applicable to chargeable premises associated with a local access line owned by a carrier or that the carrier is responsible for under a nominated carrier declaration.
The charge does not apply to a premises where a local access line is only being used to supply a service for making voice calls or to view broadcast television streams.
Certain premises are exempt from the charge if they are part of very small networks. Carriers with less than 2,000 potentially chargeable premises, either alone or as part of associated group, during the whole or a part of a month are exempt from reporting to the ACMA and from paying the charge on those premises.
This exemption applies on a month-by-month basis. For example, if a carrier had less than 2,000 potentially chargeable premises in January and more than 2,000 potentially chargeable premises in February, only the January services would be exempt from the charge.
Potentially chargeable premises
If a person is a carrier and either owns, or is the nominated carrier in relation to, a local access line that is not an exempt line, and a carriage service provider supplies a designated broadband service to a premises in Australia using that line during the whole or part of a month, then the premises is a potentially chargeable premises for that carrier.
Transitional arrangements for the Scheme
During the first 5 years of the Scheme, some carriers will be able to claim a concession for up to 55,000 recently connected greenfield premises per month.
As defined under section 96B of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999, a premises is considered a recently connected greenfield premises under 2 circumstances:
- Recently connected greenfield declaration:
- a declaration made under subsection 63(2) of the Telco Act was in force for that carrier on 30 June 2018; and
- the declaration required the carrier to connect premises located in a particular development area upon request; and
- it is a potentially chargeable premises of the carrier; and
- the premises are within the development area and were connected to the carrier’s network, on or before 30 June 2019.
- Eligible local bitstream access service:
- during a period of a month or a part of a month in an eligible financial year, the premises were supplied an eligible local bitstream access service, as well as designated broadband services using a local access line; and
- the arrangement was captured by an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission service declaration under s152AL(3) of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (for premises supplied between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2019) and was in place immediately before the start of Schedule 1 of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Act 2020.
Carriers that are not entitled to a concession for recently connected greenfield premises may be entitled to a transitional concession for the first 25,000 small business and residential premises connected to their local access lines. If they are part of an associated group, this concession can only be claimed by the controller of the associated group. This concession is also available for the first 5 years of the scheme.
Chargeable premises associated with a local access line of a carrier in multi-unit buildings
Each of the premises in a multi-unit building that are supplied with a designated broadband service using a local access line of a carrier will be ‘chargeable premises’ of that carrier. This is the case regardless of whether the services are provided by the carrier or by another carriage service provider using the carrier’s local access line.
There may be more than one local access line used to supply services to premises within a multi-unit building. This is because both lead-in cables and lines on the customer side of the telecommunications network may be taken to be local access lines for the purpose of the Scheme.
The carrier who owns, or is the nominated carrier in relation to, the local access line nearest to the premises being supplied with the service will be required to report that premises as a ‘chargeable premises associated with a local access line’.
Designated broadband services
A designated broadband service is a carriage service supplied using a local access line in Australia that enables end-users to download communications and is technically capable of being used to supply a superfast carriage service (a download speed of 25 Mbps or more). Voice-only telephone services and broadcast television streaming-only services are excluded from the definition.
A nominated carrier is a carrier who has been nominated by the owner of a network unit to be responsible for that network unit in accordance with Division 4 of Part 3 of the Telco Act. The ACMA manages applications for nominated carrier declarations.
A nominated carrier declaration allows a person to supply carriage services to the public using a network unit that is not owned by that carrier.
Local access lines that are transitioning to NBN Co or being decommissioned under certain agreements are excluded from the definition of a potentially chargeable premises. This means that premises supplied with designated broadband services using such local access lines are exempt from the charge. The following local access lines are exempt lines:
- lines that are transitioning to NBN Co from Telstra Corporation Limited (Telstra) under specified agreements
- lines that are the subject of an agreement between NBN Co and specified Optus companies providing for the deactivation or decommissioning of HFC lines
- lines that are transitioning to NBN Co where a contract was in place for their transfer prior to 26 May 2020.
Associates and associated groups
For the purposes of the RBS, carriers must report certain details about their associates in relation to the control of a telecommunications network, a local access line or a company. Section 152 of the Telco Act defines an associate for the purposes of the RBS.
Generally, an associate is an entity that is a partner, or member of the business group of the controller (usually the owner) of the network or local access line. It also includes persons who act in accordance with the directions of the controller, or who are accustomed to so act, or who are intended or expected to do so under an agreement with the controller. The definition of associate is detailed, and these are just examples of some of circumstances in which a person (whether a company or individual) will be taken to be an associate. Carriers should carefully consider Part 8 of the Telco Act and seek their own advice to ensure they identify and report all relevant associates.
Under subsection 100(7) of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999, if a person is in a position to exercise control of one or more local access lines or a telecommunications network and they have one or more associates, the person is taken to belong to an associated group and is the controller of the associated group. During the first 5 years of the RBS, the controller of the associated group must include in its RBS report a statement that it is the controller of an associated group, identify each member of that associated group, and set out the circumstances that resulted in the person being the controller of the associated group.
Calculating the RBS charge
Under the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Act 2020 (the RBS Charge Act) a charge of $7.10 per premises per month is set for the first eligible financial year based on two components:
For the first eligible financial year, the base component per month is currently $7.09. The base component will be subject to indexation in each subsequent financial year.
For the first eligible financial year, the administrative component per month is currently $0.01. The administrative components that will apply per month for the second, third, fourth and fifth eligible financial years are set out in section 16 of the RBS Charge Act. From the sixth eligible financial year onward, the administrative component will be subject to indexation.
The applicable charge per premises for the subsequent years will be published by the ACMA on its website, closer to the relevant reporting period.
A carriers’ annual charge is worked out by multiplying its chargeable premises per month by the base component amount and the administrative component amount. These monthly base amounts and monthly administrative amounts are added up to determine the annual base amount and annual administrative amount. The carrier’s annual charge is the sum of the annual base amount and annual administrative amount.
First reporting period
1 January to 30 June 2021 – Carriers need to keep track of all potentially chargeable premises, associates, potentially concessional premises and recently connected greenfield premises for each month.
31 October 2021 – Carriers are required to submit a written report to the ACMA in the form approved by the ACMA for each month in the 6 months of the reporting period.
Second and subsequent reporting periods
1 July to 30 June – Carriers need to keep track of all potentially chargeable premises, associates, potentially concessional premises and recently connected greenfield premises for each month of each year for the following 4 years.
31 October – Carriers are required to submit a written report to the ACMA in the form approved by the ACMA for the 12 months of the reporting period.
Requirement to report
This decision tree will help you determine what you need to report on.