Police take 700 MHz fight to 'every politician'

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Police take 700 MHz fight to 'every politician'

Seek election commitments.

The Police Federation of Australia is vowing to take its fight for 700 MHz spectrum for a public safety 4G network to "every politician in the parliament", despite another setback to its campaign.

CEO Mark Burgess told iTnews the Federation had already sought meetings with Communications Minister Anthony Albanese, Opposition Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Greens representative, and Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband Ed Husic.

The Federation is hoping to capitalise on a recent parliamentary committee report that backed its push for a 20 MHz slice of 'waterfront' 700 MHz spectrum.

But the report has been largely met with silence from all sides of politics since it was handed down on July 23, forcing the Federation to raise its lobbying efforts.

"We're going to take this to every politician in the parliament, [on] both sides of politics," Burgess said.

"We want them to clearly think about the decisions that they make in the lead-up to this election."

Burgess said the lack of reaction from either main party had "surprised" the Federation, considering the parliamentary committee contained politicians from a cross-section of politics.

The Federation had also been "surprised" and "disappointed" by the actions of the Government, which continued to block attempts by the Federation to get hold of the 700 MHz spectrum.

A 30 MHz chunk of the 700 MHz spectrum didn't sell at auction earlier this year. It is said to be worth between $900 million and $1 billion, and the Government appears keen not to cede to demands by the Federation and others to hand it over for free, preferring instead to park it and sell it in future to mobile telcos.

Instead of the unsold 700 MHz, the Government is offering a 10 MHz in the adjacent 800 MHz band for the public safety network project, along with a chunk of 4.9 GHz spectrum.

Last week, Minister Albanese issued formal directions to prevent any unsold 700 MHz spectrum from being sold for anything less than this year's auction reserve price of $1.36 per megahertz per population.

The move is a setback to the Federation's push to be given 700 MHz spectrum for free — effectively financed from the profits generated by selling other portions of the band to Telstra and Optus.

The Government has twice moved behind-the-scenes to veto the Federation's bid for 700 MHz assets.

The Federation first made its bid for 700 MHz spectrum public on June 17. Six days later, then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy put draft ministerial directions out to consultation to prevent the unsold spectrum being given away for free.

And now, within three days of the parliamentary committee recommending that 700 MHz spectrum be granted to public safety agencies, the same ministerial directions were finalised, effectively removing any option that doesn't involve selling the spectrum at a price.

"We're a little bit disappointed because we thought we might have got a bit of a hearing from this [Communications] Minister as opposed to the previous minister," Burgess said.

"That appears to maybe not be the case. Again we just continually say that it's just unfortunate that it appears that this Government is putting dollars ahead of public safety.

"What's more important — a few dollars through the tills, or Australian public safety?"

The parliamentary committee left an option in its recommendations to supply public safety agencies with 20 MHz of spectrum in the 800 MHz band — double what the Government has so far promised them there.

However, this is seen as a last resort, and the Federation is still primarily aiming to get hold of 700 MHz spectrum.

"At the end of the day ... until such time as that spectrum is sold, or it's gone through an auction and someone's bid for it and they've been the successful bidder, as far as we're concerned it's still in play," Burgess said.

"We're not going away and we're not backing away."

Burgess did not buy the public line of the mobile telcos that remaining 700 MHz assets should be kept for the exclusive use of commercial 4G network operators.

"It's nice of the telcos to say, 'We don't want it [the rest of the available 700 MHz spectrum] but we don't want anyone else to have it either'," Burgess said.

"I actually was of the view that our telcos in Australia were very good corporate citizens, and that surprises me."

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