Carving up Australia’s airwaves is a handy money-spinner for our government. The Australian and Communications Media Authority (ACMA) is set to hit the jackpot in the coming financial year, with the renewals from the latest round of 15-year spectrum licences due to kick-off, along with the fortuitously timed auctioning off of 700 MHz and 2.5 GHz spectrum.
ACMA derives revenues from two different licence types across the radiofrequency spectrum: spectrum licences, which run for 15 years, and apparatus licences, which line the coffers with annual payments. According to a February media release from Stephen Conroy’s office, spectrum licence renewals are expected to bring in approximately 3 billion dollars over the next four years.
Hefty price rises were applied to this round of renewals in an effort by the government to extract maximum mileage from our addiction to all things wireless. The windfall gains include revenues from licences for spectrum in the 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2.3 GHz frequency bands.
Industry analysts are expecting another 4 billion dollars to be added to this bonanza, through the handy auctioning off of spectrum in the 700 MHz band later this year, as part of what has been coined the ‘digital dividend’ policy. With the addition of 2.5 GHz spectrum, this has been billed by ACMA as the biggest digital spectrum auction to be held in a decade. Bandwidth in the 700 MHz band has been freed up due to Australia’s transition from analog to digital television, which requires far less spectrum. The 700 MHz band, in particular, is coveted, with an ACMA spokesperson declaring this to be the ‘the waterfront property of the spectrum world’. Similarly to the 900 MHz band where smart meters transmit, the usefulness of the 700 MHz band stems from the ability of these radiofrequencies to both ‘cover larger areas as well as penetrating buildings and other obstacles between base stations and customers’. In other words, these radiofrequencies also nicely pass through living tissue, including trees, animals and people.
So what does this massive cash cow have to do with smart meters? After all, the radio mesh networks, deployed by CitiPower/Powercor and the Jemena and United Energy partnership, have crammed themselves into the licence-free 915 – 928 MHz segment, where they are supposed to peacefully co-exist, and not interfere, with low-emission devices such as cordless phones, garage door openers, motion detectors and security systems. Only SP AusNet, with its orphan WiMax smart meter offering, may stand to feel the brunt of increased licence fees, via its agreements with the two organisations from which it leases a sub-band of their 2.3 GHz spectrum licence.
The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy’s Regulation Impact Statement on Competition limits on the sale of digital dividend (700 megahertz) and 2.5 gigahertz spectrum states ‘in the Towards 2020 paper, the ACMA estimated that data demand would grow 30-fold between 2007 and 2015 and be 500 times greater than 2007 levels by 2020’. Never mind that a reading of the paper itself reveals a far more conservative view in terms of demand on spectrum, it’s obvious the government is in full-on sales mode when it comes to spruiking our spectrum.
And why not, the powers-that-be have promised a 2012-13 budget surplus, and spectrum sales look set to to be a winner. So, like the snake oil salesman about to clinch a deal that will deliver the bacon, why would the government acknowledge pesky problems such as the possibility that our escalating exposure to pulsating radiofrequencies is fuelling a long-term health crisis? Or that the additional layer of electromagnetic pollution blanketing Victoria as a result of smart meter emissions is already tipping some people over their EMR limit, leaving in its wake fractured lives?
No, of course the government doesn’t dare give any credence to the increasing weight of science urgently calling for new, biologically-based public exposure standards to protect public health world-wide. After all, we wouldn’t want to spook the market, would we?