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Parliament mulls fate of unsold Digital Dividend spectrum

Adam Bender | June 24, 2013
Police Federation lobbying Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard for 700MHz spectrum.

A skirmish has broken out between Australian police and the mobile industry over who should have mobile spectrum in the 700MHz band that went unsold in the recent Digital Dividend auction.

The 700MHz spectrum in question is considered valuable because it can be used for 4G mobile coverage in regional areas.

The Police Federation of Australia is actively campaigning Parliament to give public safety agencies 20MHz of the 30MHz that went unsold to commercial mobile operators in the recent Digital Dividend auction. However, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), representing those mobile operators, has opposed the Police Federation's request.

AMTA instead supports a plan for public safety announced in October last year by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under which the public safety agencies would receive 10MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band. But the Police Federation has argued it needs at least 20MHz to provide enough capacity in the event of a terrorism incident in a major CBD or a major natural disaster.

The debate for 700MHz spectrum is occurring in the context of an ongoing inquiry of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. The committee had a hearing on Monday this week and has another scheduled 24 June. The committee is expected to table a report before Parliament rises for the September federal elections.

Police Federation CEO Mark Burgess told Computerworld Australia that his group hopes Parliament will support its position in the report and communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy will follow by directing ACMA to give public safety agencies the 700MHz spectrum.

Conroy had stated before that he would direct the ACMA to return the spectrum to market in two to three years.

AMTA president Chris Althaus said he hopes Conroy won't change his mind.

"We absolutely reject the ... opportunistic agenda that's being run at the minute" by the Police Federation, Althaus said in an interview. "It defies a fair bit of logic and we are disappointed really that this approach is being taken when such a lot of work--rigorous, independent, well-managed analysis has been undertaken up until this point."

"The public safety agencies themselves have been working with the ACMA, with the government, for a couple of years now to get a strong sense of how they can operate in 800MHz," Althaus said. "The fact there's still 700MHz post-Digital Dividend has seen them have another go, but we would strongly disagree with that."

The 700MHz band has been identified for mobile telecom across the globe, Althaus said. "Just because this spectrum didn't sell at auction does not mean there is a lessening of demand with the sort of volume growth that is forecast in mobile data traffic."


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