Police Federation makes play for unsold 700 MHz

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Police Federation makes play for unsold 700 MHz

No reason to keep it open for commercial telcos.

The Police Federation of Australia is making a play for two-thirds of the 700 MHz spectrum passed in at May's digital dividend auction to underpin a planned national 4G network for emergency services.

The Federation confirmed it wants the prized 700 MHz spectrum put back on the negotiating table, after the Government failed to sell a 30 MHz chunk to Australia's mobile telcos.

It is seeking "a minimum of 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band" to be reserved for the proposed emergency services' network, financed wholly by the Government's takings "from the sale of spectrum to commercial carriers".

The Government had previously refused to give any 700 MHz spectrum to emergency services on the basis that it represented a potential multi billion-dollar windfall for federal coffers.

Instead, emergency services had been offered 10 MHz of spectrum in the adjacent 800 MHz band, and a 50 MHz block in the 4.9 GHz band.

Emergency services heads see that offer as inadequate, while the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) sees it as sufficient.

The two sides have been engaged in an increasingly bitter stoush behind-the-scenes that is likely to be played out more publicly before the election, courtesy of a Senate Committee inquiry on the spectrum issue. The Greens have been calling for a Senate probe since May 2011.

'Give us 700 MHz'

The Police Federation is using the inquiry to rebid for a free allocation of 700 MHz spectrum, rather than take the 800 MHz plus 4.9 GHz allocation on offer from the Government and the ACMA.

The Federation indicated in its submission (pdf) that it was prepared to consider 800 MHz spectrum: "when we were assured by the ACMA of its suitability and that the necessary quantity [20 MHz] could be cleared of current licensees by 2015."

But the promise of only 10 MHz in the 800 MHz band, combined with the availability of an unsold portion of 700 MHz spectrum, changed the situation substantially, the Federation argued.

"There is no longer any imperative to retain the available 30 MHz of the 700 band for commercial carriers' mobile phone services," the Federation stated.

"If they choose to seek additional spectrum, any of the 800 MHz band which becomes available in the future would be possible and suitable for [mobile carriers]. They already hold spectrum in the 800 MHz band."

The Western Australian Government is among those backing the bid to secure unsold 700 MHz spectrum, noting it would reduce the cost of deploying the emergency services network and provide certainty on when network deployment could begin. (pdf)

"The reduction in costs is due to the 700 MHz band's ability to support commercially available public safety grade equipment and systems integration solutions (whereas the 800 MHz band currently does not)," it said.

ACMA's vote of no confidence

Abundantly clear from the Federation statement is the level to which its relationship with the ACMA has soured through the process.

The Federation expressed its lack of confidence in the ACMA being able to understand emergency services' communications requirements.

It characterised its dealings with the ACMA since June 2010 as "exceedingly difficult and time consuming", having "met resistance every step of the way".

The Federation accused the ACMA of not responding to outreach, and of failing to consult it "in the three years this matter has been under consideration", and failing to attend meetings of the Public Safety Mobile Broadband Steering Committee, which was convened to work through the spectrum issue.

"We have never had the opportunity to meet with the ACMA to discuss our views," the Federation stated.

"The [Federation] would, with the greatest respect, characterise the ACMA's stance as arrogant in its treatment of stakeholders and of police operational requirements."

It also accused the ACMA of being "overly influenced by the commercial carriers' views to the detriment of public safety and the national interest".

The ACMA has previously attempted to address the allegations that a substandard allocation of spectrum could endanger public safety.

Build your network first

The communications regulator did not touch on the bitter stoush in its own submission to the inquiry, but rather positioned itself as "evidence-based" and said the evidence before it supports spectrum allocations in the 800 MHz and 4.9 GHz bands, rather than in 700 MHz.

The ACMA said only that it would consider "revisit[ing] the sufficiency" of its spectrum offer once emergency services had finished building out their mobile data network. Such timing would provide an opportunity to accurately gauge whether the allocation met the real-world — rather than predicted — demands of the agencies.

The regulator mentioned 700 MHz only in passing, noting that while it was "harmonised for public safety communications in the US and Canada ... spectrum arrangements (band plans) in those countries are vastly different to those of [Australia and Asia Pacific] so equipment used in that region could not be used here."

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