Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hard to keep a public sector agency down

The relationship between Government agencies and the radio-communications frequency has always been fraught. It was the needs of Defence that saw Governments worldwide assert their right to manage spectrum. With the move to price based allocation of spectrum it is Government agencies that want access to spectrum so that its cost is not included in the cost of their project.

In 2007 the Australian Communications and Media Authority received a report it had commissioned on Government Spectrum Holdings. That report was in response to calls from various agencies for more spectrum. The report concluded that more effective use of existing spectrum for land mobile should be made by replanning the 400 MHz band.

This work led to a four stage process that was last updated in December 2010.

No sooner does the Government get clarity than two separate projects emerge seeking more spectrum for Government or public service use.

The various State Emergency Services Agencies (ESAs) have been running a campaign for some time to have some of the Digital Dividend spectrum allocated to them. However, work by the Attorney-General's Department concluded there was no case.

Not to be deterred they have used the recent natural disasters to whip up political support for a Senate inquiry on The capacity of communication networks and emergency warning systems to deal with emergencies and natural disasters. The Terms of Reference include;

new and emerging technologies including digital spectrum that could improve preparation for, responses to and recovery from, an emergency or natural diaster (sic).

Of course, no spectrum is actually "digital" - it is only the transmission over the spectrum which is digital - but we know what they mean.

Elsewhere the railways all have decided that they too need their own wireless network and have been putting together 1800 MHz licences (actually the old One.Tel licences). They too are having to go political getting Anthony Albanese to lobby on their behalf.

My difficulty with all this is that
(a) radio infrastructure has economies of scale - a network to support just a few trains in inefficient. Ditto a network for emergency services.
(b) modern technologies (e.g. LTE) can prioritise the traffic, so the public networks could prioritise emergency traffic
(c) the proposed use of spectrum for ESAs limits the utility of the public network services
(d) even if the ESA or railway isn't required to make the transfer payment for use of the spectrum the Cost Benefit Analysis for their project needs to value the spectrum at its next best use - i.e. what they would have paid in a price based allocation.

But you can't keep a good government agency down!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

No comments: