Recent legislation reallocating the 700 MHz D Block for public safety broadband and setting aside substantial funding for a nationwide public safety broadband network was a huge win for APCO International and its partners in the public safety community. Of course, no legislation is perfect, and in this case the otherwise positive legislation contains a few provisions that create major challenges for a subset of public safety land mobile radio systems.
The problem is that certain influential members of Congress insisted that public safety give up some of its current spectrum “in exchange” for the D Block. That, unfortunately, led to provisions in the legislation requiring that public safety vacate spectrum they use in the 470–512 MHz band (aka “the T-Band”) within 11 years.
The T-Band is allocated for television channels 14–20 across the United States (each channel is 6 MHz wide). However, some of those television channels are also allocated for private land mobile radio, including public safety, in 11 major metropolitan areas: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are also land mobile allocations in Cleveland and Detroit, but Canadian border issues have prevented deployments in those areas. Users include some of the nation’s largest police and fire departments, as well as smaller agencies (Disclaimer: I represent several T Band licensees in my private practice capacity).
The legislation requires that T-Band spectrum used by public safety be reallocated and auctioned by the FCC for new services within nine years and that current users vacate the band within two years thereafter. The legislation requires that the auction revenue be made available to cover the cost of relocating existing T-Band operations; however, many questions remain as to whether the revenue will be sufficient and how the funds will be distributed.
Perhaps the biggest issue for many T Band licensees is the lack of alternative spectrum to which to move. All of the T-Band licensees are in major metropolitan areas where spectrum is scarce. Possible new homes for current operations include the 700 MHz narrowband spectrum, VHF/UHF channels that may become available as a result of narrowbanding, and the handful of 800 MHz channels that may be available as a fall out from rebanding. Eventually, some users may be able to move their T-Band voice communications to the National Public Safety Broadband Network, although it will be many years before that network is able to provide mission critical voice capability.
Compounding the problem from a licensee’s perspective, the FCC has imposed a freeze on new applications and certain types of modifications to existing licenses in the T-Band. The FCC did indicate, however, that it would consider waiving the freeze under certain conditions. In a separate action, the FCC relieved T-Band licensees of the obligation to convert to narrowband operations by Dec. 31, 2012 (a requirement that stands for land mobile licenses on channels below 470 MHz).
T-Band licensees across the relevant metropolitan areas are struggling to grasp the consequences of the legislation and reviewing their future options. They have a huge imbedded base of equipment operating in the band, and some have recently deployed or are in the process of deploying new T-Band systems, in some cases as part of metropolitan area-wide interoperability plans. Fortunately, the legislation provides a little time for solutions to be developed.
Note: The legislation discussed above also includes several provisions related to PSAPs and 9-1-1. Two of those are the subject of new FCC proceedings to implement the law. The FCC is required to establish a do-not-call registry for PSAPs, which is intended to prevent “robocalls” to 9-1-1 and other emergency numbers. A notice of proposed rulemaking in that regard was released on May 22 in Docket 12-129. The comment date had not been established when I wrote this column. As required by the legislation, the Commission also issued a Notice of Inquiry to explore once again issues related to multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) and E9-1-1 capability. This is a very old issue. In fact, it was first raised more than 18 years ago in the same FCC proceeding that started discussion of wireless E9-1-1 capability. FCC activity on the MLTS issue has been hampered by unclear federal jurisdiction and FCC authority, varying state initiatives and evolving technology.
About the Author
Robert Gurss is APCO’s regulatory counsel and is also an attorney with the telecommunications law firm of Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth PLC, through which he represents state and local governments and other clients. Contact him at 202/236-1743, or via e-mail at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Public Safety Communications, the official magazine of APCO International.