TWO companies forced to repay $900,000 from dodgy claims made on a government broadband scheme are continuing to get funding from the program designed to connect remote communities.Despite the companies being investigated by the Australian Federal Police for fraud, they are among those registered to receive a share of the $251 million over four years set aside by the federal government for the Australian Broadband Guarantee.The scheme, introduced in the final year of the previous government, pays internet providers up to $2500 for connecting households and small businesses in remote locations where it would not be economical for providers to offer services.In December, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the two companies had been referred to the AFP following alleged ”significant compliance breaches” in the program. While the two companies were not identified, the internet provider Activ8me acknowledged it had submitted some ”irregular claims”.The alleged scam involved the companies providing misleading information to the Department of Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy, falsely claiming households and businesses were in the geographic zones entitled to the subsidy when they were not.New information has emerged showing the companies are continuing to participate in the scheme. In a written response to questions asked at the Senate estimates hearing by the Liberal senator Nick Minchin, the department admitted the two rorting companies were still participating in the program despite having to repay $864,771 and being the subject of departmental audits.”The two … are continuing to provide services, pending the outcome of relevant investigations and noting that all monies owed have been repaid,” the department said.”Both companies have independently acted to put in place compliance measures to prevent a recurrence of such instances.”Internet providers are required to show they have a viable business plan. Few of the 17 companies in the scheme are major internet players, with many seeming to focus on connections to remote customers.The opposition’s communications spokesman, Tony Smith, called on Senator Conroy to explain why he was ”apparently happy” for the two companies to continue with the scheme despite the police investigation. ”The former Coalition government set up the [guarantee] and it’s … ironic after more than two years and despite all Labor’s broadband rhetoric it is the only vehicle that resulted in new services actually being delivered under the Rudd government,” he said.A spokeswoman for Senator Conroy said the inquiry had not affected the scheme’s success.In December Activ8me admitted it dismissed one staff member and 10 agents after it was alerted to irregular claims. It said the claims made up less than 1 per cent of its connections across the country.
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