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Public safety users need broadband radio access and should be allocated 20 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, according to an Australian parliamentary report.

Emergency services have been seeking extra spectrum for years, while the government has seen the 700 MHz frequencies vacated by TV broadcasters during the move to digital TV as a budget top-up. The political imperative has been to get as many feathers off the mobile broadband goose as possible – and reserving capacity for public safety isn't as lucrative as auctioning spectrum to carriers.

However, the near-$AU2 billion spectrum auctions conducted earlier this year didn't follow the “digital dividend” script. Vodafone stayed away from the party, and Telstra and Optus ultimately left 30 MHz of spectrum without a bid. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement saw the chance to re-open the debate, and launched an inquiry into the unclaimed spectrum.

Its recommendation is that 20 MHz of the 700 MHz band should be allocated to public safety applications, funded by some of the proceeds of the spectrum auction conducted earlier this year, and that public safety organisations should have “priority access” to the remaining 10 MHz.

Carriers could, under the recommendations, have “overflow arrangements” to access the final 10 MHz of spectrum when it's not needed for emergency services.

If the government baulks at the idea of giving up its plans to auction the 20 MHz allocation in the future, it should allocate 20 MHz in the 800 MHz band to public safety, the report recommends. This is double the 10 MHz the Australian Communications and Media Authority last year recommended be allocated to public safety. ®

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