Give unsold 700MHz spectrum to public safety: Parliamentary committee

Recommendation could still be turned down by communications minister

In a win for police against the mobile industry, a parliamentary committee has recommended that public safety agencies receive a portion of unsold Digital Dividend spectrum in the 700MHz band.

In a report released today, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement recommended that communications minister Anthony Albanese issue a ministerial direction to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to allocate 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 700MHz band for a public safety mobile broadband network.

The committee also recommended that the minister “take appropriate measures to secure, for public service agencies, priority access to an additional 10 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band for public safety purposes.”

The report resolves a contentious parliamentary inquiry that pitted the Police Federation of Australia, a police union, against the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA). However, the committee report is only a recommendation and Albanese could still refuse to reverse a decision by his predecessor Stephen Conroy to return the 700MHz spectrum to market.

The committee said that if the Australian Government does not support handing over 700MHz spectrum, it should instead give public safety agencies access to 20MHz in the 800MHz band.

The 700MHz spectrum in question is considered valuable because it can be used for 4G mobile coverage in regional areas. The Police Federation has been 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 AMTA has supported the ACMA’s original decision to provide spectrum in the 800MHz band to public safety and Conroy’s draft directive that would have ACMA return the unsold 700MHz spectrum to market.

Conroy issued the draft direction while the parliamentary inquiry was still ongoing. The Police Federation celebrated when Conroy departed the job after Kevin Rudd became prime minister.

Police Federation president Vince Kelly urged Albanese and shadow minister Malcolm Turnbull to support the recommendations.

"The recommendations of this searching inquiry vindicate all the effort the PFA and its branches have put into the campaign over the past three years to get adequate spectrum for police and other public safety agencies which protect the public when critical incidents, crimes and terrorist incidents and natural disasters happen," Kelly said in a statement.

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