Govt kicks off cost-benefit analysis of emergency services spectrum

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Govt kicks off cost-benefit analysis of emergency services spectrum

PFA welcomes action on pre-election promise.

The federal government has made good on a pre-election promise to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of allocating spectrum to a dedicated national emergency services network, today directing the Productivity Commission to investigate and recommend the best solution to the problem.

Prior to the 2013 federal election, the Coalition promised emergency services bodies - particularly the Police Federation of Australia - that it would undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the PFA’s proposal for 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum to be allocated to a 4G emergency services network.

The Communications department in March said state leaders had been informed of the impending cost-benefit analysis, and today revealed the Productivity Commission had been charged with the task of completing the review.

The department said the Productivity Commission would be asked to undertake a ‘first principles’ analysis of the most efficient and effective way of delivering mobile broadband capability for public safety agencies by 2020.

The study is expected to take between six and 12 months, and evaluate whether the Government should take a purely commercial approach - such as Telstra's LANES proposal - to a national emergency services network; or whether to dedicate spectrum to a public safety network.

A mobile broadband capability for public safety agencies would establish “an improved response to emergency events and enable better communication within and between jurisdictions,” the department said.

It will soon write to its state and territory counterparts for their responses to its draft terms of reference - which are yet to be made public.

After 30 MHz was passed in at the Government’s 2013 digital dividend spectrum auction, the Police Federation of Australia made a bid for 20MHz of preferably 700MHz spectrum to be set aside for an emergency services network, to be financed from the $2 billion the Government pocketed from the auction.

The PFA’s bid was rejected by the then-Labor Government, which was keen to sell the spectrum to a commercial bidder.

The organisation was instead offered 10 MHz of spectrum in the adjacent 800 MHz band and 50 MHz in the 4.9 GHz band - a compromise the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said would be sufficient.

The PFA has long argued that, based on evidence provided by Australia’s state and territory public safety bodies, 20MHz was the minimum required for a national emergency services network. Its argument has also received the support of a Senate Committee investigating the issue.

PFA CEO Mark Burgess today welcomed the Government’s action on its pre-election promise.

“Our position from day one has been very clear: we want 20MHz of spectrum allocated to public safety,” Burgess told iTnews.

“We’ve historically argued for that to be in the 700MHz band, but we’re realistic enough to know it’s likely to come from the 800MHz band.

"But our argument for at least 20MHz has been consistent - that way the players in public safety would be in a position to deal with the private sector to decide who they are going to partner with.”

He said the PFA’s main goal was ensuring that public safety agencies owned and controlled the 20MHz so emergency services bodies won’t need to go “cap in hand” to telcos to attempt to strike deals.

“The allocation needs to be made to public safety [agencies] so they are in the driver’s seat to negotiate, not the other way around."

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