Aus govt 'mortgaging future' with emergency spectrum

The Australian government's decision to only offer half of the spectrum that emergency services were after will mortgage Australia's future and put lives at risk, according to critics.

The Australian government has been accused of mortgaging Australia's future by only granting 10MHz of the 800MHz spectrum band to police, fire, and ambulance organisations, instead of the 20MHz that was originally sought by them.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) yesterday said that it would allocate 2x 5MHz spectrum segments in the 800MHz band for emergency service organisations to use for emergency broadband networks. The agencies had been after 2x 10MHz of spectrum, but the ACMA said that its analysis determined that 20MHz of spectrum would be "largely under-used."

Motorola Solutions, a company that specialises in emergency service networks, had been lobbying the government to allocate 20MHz of spectrum for those networks. Australian MD Gary Starr said that the company is disappointed with the outcome, but is hopeful that that 20MHz is still obtainable.

"This decision does mortgage the future to some extent, and we're hopeful we can continue the dialogue with the government. This is not over yet. We can continue to put a case forward that 10 + 10 [MHz] is the minimum required for public safety to go about their day-to-day work," he said.

As a compromise, the ACMA announced that emergency services would also be given 50MHz of the 4.9GHz spectrum band. But Starr said that this is a "red herring."

"The higher the spectrum gets, the less the coverage area, so at 4.9GHz, we're really talking mobile broadband hotspot; 4.9 is a bit of a red herring. It doesn't relate to public safety broadband over the wide area. The government announcing 4.9GHz at the same time just masks the issue a bit," he said.

"It is not really applicable for the applications we are talking about."

Victorian Premier Ted Bailieu also took aim at the spectrum announcement, saying that the federal government is putting lives at risk.

"To now have the commonwealth say, 'you can only have half of what you need, and we're going to charge you for it and it's going to be on a basis where you have to build and pay for access to it' — it is extraordinary," he told journalists this morning.

"Of course this puts lives at risk. The commonwealth should be providing access fully to the spectrum as requested, and they certainly shouldn't be charging for it."

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon told ABC News Breakfast this morning that spectrum is a "very valuable commercial commodity," and accused Ballieu of complaining without offering any plans to ensure that the spectrum would be used.

"I think this is really just a bit of political posturing from Mr Baillieu, who hasn't put any financial commitment on the table to make sure that this dedicated spectrum becomes a reality to improve communications between emergency services personnel."

Roxon said that the government has offered the spectrum to state governments "at a public interest price" at 50 percent of what it would be worth commercially, which is over AU$100 million.

"To date, Mr Baillieu doesn't have a single dollar on the table and in fact is slashing money from fire-fighting services in his most recent budget," she said.

"That 10MHz has been set aside, we're offering that to states and territories for their emergency services personnel, [but] it will be a matter for the states and territories whether they are prepared to work with us, to negotiate over this very important reform."

AAP contributed to this article.