A Telstra-run national emergency warning system underwritten by the Federal Government came under fire during a Senate Committee this week over concerns the telco was unfairly profiting from the service.
Telstra representatives faced a series of questions from a Senate Committee over how its emergency alert system operated and what it charged emergency services organisations to use it.
Telstra's senior government relations advisor Jamie Snashall appeared uncomfortable when asked to describe the dollars and cents of the emergency alert service.
He said costs was an issue Telstra would take on notice.
Back in 2009, the Australian Government committed $26.3 million in a selective tender to assist the States and Territories develop a national emergency warning capability. Optus and Telstra were the only bidders, with other organisations being invited to approach the two carriers.
The resulting National Emergency Warning System was put to the test during the recent floods in Queensland.
Snashall said the emergency service was similar to normal SMS messages and its "users" - the emergency services organisations - bear the cost.
Pressed by Liberal Party Senator Garry Humphries over who in fact paid for the SMS transmission, Snashall responded that he “could not tell directly."
"My understanding is that emergency services authorities have a contract and bear the cost,” Snashall said.
Snashall was more certain the cost would not be borne by Telstra as part of its Universal Service Obligation.
Chairman of the Committee, Labor Senator Doug Cameron asked Telstra to explain the commercial arrangement and how it might minimise the cost to emergency service operators.
“The argument they (emergency service organisations) are putting to us is that they don’t want to be beholden to a commercial operator who would charge a premium for emergency service operations,” Senator Cameron said.