CREATING a national public safety mobile broadband system for emergency services to use during natural disasters could cost at least $2.2 billion over 20 years.
A new Productivity Commission report has examined the potential of such a PSMB network, proposing four models - a private sector-run network, a "dedicated" system and two hybrid structures.
The commission rejected a proposal to build a fully dedicated telecommunications network for the system at a cost of up to $6.2 billion over 20 years, or 2.8 times the cost of the fully commercial option using existing networks.
Although firefighters and state emergency services mainly use the existing 3G mobile networks or their own radio systems, the report looks at the creation of a special data-based network using broadband for communications.
It found the use of broadband by emergency staff had "the potential to improve the quality of public safety services, the operational efficiency of public service agencies and the safety of officers".
However, it also found emergency authorities' use of mobile broadband was already limited "due to concerns about the quality of commercial services", including access and capacity problems during "times of congestion".
The report recommends against providing a permanent network for PSMB in remote areas of the country, saying it would be "very costly".
Instead the commission recommended the use of transportable equipment or satellite broadband, despite acknowledging those systems were "not to a public safety standard".
According to figures from the Insurance Council of Australia, financial losses claimed so far in the "catastrophic" fires at Pinery in South Australia, Wye River in Victoria and Waroona in Western Australia are more than $282 million and rising.
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