On 23 July 2013 the Parliamentary Joint Committee tabled the report of its inquiry into spectrum for public safety mobile broadband and strongly backed the PFA’s call for 20MHz of spectrum to be made available for an interoperable national public safety mobile broadband network.
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.
We now need the support of the Government through, Minister Anthony Albanese MP and the Opposition through Malcolm Turnbull MP to adopt the Committee’s recommendations.
The Committee recommends:
- “that the Minister for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy issue a Ministerial Direction to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to allocate 20 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 700 MHz band for the purposes of a public safety mobile broadband network”;
- “that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy 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”;
- “if recommendation 1 is not supported by the Australian Government, the committee recommends that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy issue a Ministerial Direction to the Australian Communications and Media Authority to allocate as a minimum requirement, 20 MHz in the 800 MHz band for the purposes of a public safety mobile broadband network”;
- “that the Attorney-General’s Department facilitate a public consultation process on a regulatory framework for overflow arrangements between public safety agencies and commercial carriers”; and
- “that the Australian Government direct an appropriate portion of the proceeds derived from the auction of spectrum to fund the allocation of 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band for the purposes of a national public safety mobile broadband network”.
The Committee makes some important points which the PFA has been instrumental in highlighting during this long-running debate:
- The development of mobile broadband communications for police and our partners will bring generational change in the emergency services world, including vastly improved situational awareness for officers on the ground and much better coordination.
- For the Australian public, a 21st century level of service better equipped to save lives will be developed once the mobile broadband networks are up and running.
- The occupational health and safety of Australia’s 400,000 first responders will be enhanced, particularly for those frontline officers working in hazardous situations.
- This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ensure that we have adequate spectrum for a dedicated mission-critical mobile broadband capability, given the current, rare availability of good quality spectrum.
- Likely increase in public safety agencies use of and demand for spectrum has been taken into account.
- The Committee makes the point that spectrum on the 700 MHz band could be provided with immediate effect and sees no reason not to take that opportunity. Alternatively, a minimum of 20 MHz in the 800 MHz band could be provided.
- Much work remains to be done on arrangements for public safety overflow onto commercial networks when major emergencies occur and the public safety networks are saturated or overwhelmed. The Committee recommends a robust regulatory framework be developed covering matters like priority access and that the Attorney-General’s Department run a public consultation process on this vital issue.
The PFA strongly endorses the Committee’s conclusion that “there is no greater use of spectrum as a public resource than that of ensuring the safety of the Australian public. Public safety operations are essential to the public interest.
The PFA and Police Associations and Unions in every State and Territory can reflect with pride on the well developed and presented evidence we have put to all the inquiries and committees that have examined this matter, and the support we have had from the police services in every jurisdiction around Australia.
This is truly a case of the public interest prevailing, provided that all political parties now get behind the Committee’s five recommendations and we see them implemented quickly.
Vince Kelly APM, President
23 July 2013