The Police Federation of Australia has hit out at communications minister Stephen Conroy’s draft directive to the Australian Communications and Media Authority that it return to market the spectrum in the 700MHz band that remained unsold after the Digital Dividend auction.
ACMA is required to report back to Conroy by 1 September on processes for returning the spectrum to the market.
Conroy's draft directive follows hearings by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement looking at how much spectrum law enforcement agencies need to communicate during emergencies and which band is the most appropriate.
Mark Burgess, CEO of the Police Federation, labelled Conroy's decision “arrogant”.
“[Conroy’s] in effect pre-empting a decision of the law enforcement joint committee,” Burgess said.
“I think it’s a bit arrogant actually. You’ve got a committee – a joint parliamentary committee – that’s inquiring into this at the moment.
"They may come up with a totally contrary recommendation and he’s trying to, I suppose, usurp their authority to come up with that by pushing ahead with this.
“It just strikes me as somewhat coincidental that as the evidence is being heard and probably doesn’t favour Minister Conroy’s point-of-view, that he’s decided to direct ACMA to sell it and get prepared to sell it.”
ACMA has allocated emergency services 10MHz in the 800MHz band, but the Police Federation has been fighting for 20MHz in the 700MHz band.
Burgess said law enforcement wants the 700MHz spectrum because it could be made available more quickly; using spectrum in the 800MHz band would require shifting some users to other spectrum, which take years, he said.
ACMA has argued that 800MHz is being harmonised around Asia Pacific for emergency services, with North America the only region to utilise 700MHz for public safety.
“A lot of what they’re saying about compatibility in the Asia Pacific region was refuted yesterday in evidence given to the parliamentary committee,” Burgess said.
“I think ACMA are a bit loose with some of this sort of stuff and I think they got caught out on some of this sort of stuff in the parliamentary inquiry yesterday. The reality is there is 30MHz available in the 700MHz band.”
Burgess said the difference between having 10MHz and 20MHz is “amazing” and would enable emergency services to transmit large amounts of data and video during critical incidents.
For example, if there was a major accident in a CBD, emergency services would be able to upload data and video from the accident and send it to a command centre. Data such as building plans, street plans and gas and electricity cables could also be accessed.
Burgess said he will keep pursuing the issue with the government.
“At the end of the day this is about public safety and our concern is some of the actions of the current minister are more about financial issues and filling the coffers of the government than they are about public safety, and we think he’s got his priorities absolutely wrong,” he said.
Burgess said police, fire and emergency commissioners around Australia are all arguing that they need at least 20MHz.
“What the government wants is the money, unfortunately at the expense of public safety," Burgess said. "That’s not a government’s role. I thought a government’s role firstly was clearly the safety and security of our citizens, not cash.”
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), representing mobile operators, has opposed the Police Federation’s request for more spectrum in the 700MHz band.
“We absolutely reject the ... opportunistic agenda that’s being run at the minute” by the Police Federation, Chris Althaus, AMTA president, said recently.
A spokesman from Conroy’s department told Computerworld Australia the government is committed to working with states to develop an improved public safety mobile network.
He said ACMA has determined that allocating spectrum in 800MHz band is the most appropriate option.
“I’m telling you now that ACMA have got it wrong – they’ve clearly got it wrong [and] the government’s got it wrong. This is an issue that we will fight right to the death on because it’s so important to the future of public safety in Australia,” Burgess said.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement is expected to table a report before parliament rises for the September federal election.
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