FCC Proposes T-Band Auction Rules, Asks Industry for Input on Relocation
Tuesday, July 07, 2020 | Comments

As mandated by Congress, the FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to auction the T-band 470 – 512 MHz spectrum. The notice outlines licensing and operating rules, along with a band plan and technical rules, although the NPRM seeks comments on many issues such as where T-band licensees might move and what to do about industrial/business (I/B) licensees also operating in the spectrum.

The mandated T-band spectrum auction has raised relocation and funding questions from numerous entities since the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 — the same legislation that created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) — surprised the industry by requiring public safety to give up the T-band spectrum in exchange for 700 MHz band 14 spectrum. Eleven major U.S. cities, including Boston; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City, including parts of New Jersey; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Francisco/Oakland; and Washington, D.C., including parts of Maryland and Virginia, use the T-band spectrum.

Numerous groups, including federal agencies, have questioned the benefits of auctioning the spectrum and asked Congress to pass legislation to allow public safety to keep the T-band. But, because Congress has not repealed the mandate, the FCC is forced to move forward with the auction and relocation process.

Multiple bills to repeal the mandate have been introduced in both houses of Congress, but none have moved out of committee. Earlier this year, eight senators urged Senate leadership to include language that would preserve first responders’ access to T-band spectrum in the coronavirus economic relief legislation, but it was not included.

A 2019 study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the cost of relocating T-band users to other bands of spectrum would be between $5 billion and $6 billion, and for many T-band users, alternative bands of spectrum are limited or “nonexistent.” T-band auction revenues are not expected to exceed $2 billion.

In fact, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a 2019 statement asking Congress to repeal the mandate to auction T-band spectrum and allow public-safety officials to continue using the UHF spectrum, while also suspending T-band license application processing to allow for a 2021 auction of the spectrum.

“We seek comment on additional relocation costs public-safety licensees are likely to incur to relocate out of the T-band, with the caveat that the destination spectrum bands are not yet determined,” the NPRM said.

The 2012 legislation that mandated the auction did not address I/B licensees, which also use the T-band spectrum in the 11 markets.

“Allowing non-public safety incumbents to remain in the T-band would result in continued co-channel use of spectrum in a limited geographic area, which likely will prevent broadcast or wireless use by an overlay licensee,” the NPRM said. “… We seek comment on requiring a mandatory transition of all non-public safety incumbents (i.e., Part 90 I/B licensees and Part 22 licensees) out of the T-band, subject to payment of relocation costs, including provision of comparable facilities, by the overlay licensee.”

In a separate statement, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the rulemaking contemplates an auction in which the issuance of new licenses is contingent on the winning bids exceeding the estimated relocation costs of public safety, and she looks forward to reviewing the proceeding comments for ideas on how to proceed.

“…To succeed the auction revenue from roughly 40 megahertz of spectrum in a limited number of metropolitan areas would need to be greater than the revenue raised from the FCC’s previous nationwide auctions of 700 megahertz of spectrum in the 24 GHz band and 850 megahertz of spectrum in the 28 GHz band combined,” Rosenworcel said. “That’s a tall order. It’s highly unlikely, and will squander significant agency time and resources.

“We may also wish to explore in this rulemaking how instead of triggering license grants on winning bids, we can trigger the start of the auction on other indicators of auction success, like upfront payments or short-form applications. This would reduce the administrative expense and time devoted to an auction with no likelihood of success. … If it is possible to limit participation to those who rely on these airwaves today, we might be able to give public-safety users a fighting chance to keep their spectrum in the future.”

Alan Tilles, chairman of the technology, media and telecommunications department at Shulman Rogers, said the T-band NPRM is close to what he has predicted during the past five years. “It asks the appropriate questions and attempts to comply with congressional mandate,” Tilles said. “However, the FCC doesn't attempt to answer the core question, which is 'where to?' Instead, the FCC leaves it to commenters to come up with the ideas.”

The full NPRM is here.

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Comments
On 7/22/20, Bob Johnson said:
We shouldn t be surprised by this Our so-called leaders from APCO and the Police Chiefs made this devil s bargain and now Congress and the FCC are holding us to it. They traded-away the T-band for FirstNet without asking any of the agencies actually using T-band if we could be OK with it. Typical.

On 7/8/20, Leon van der Linde said:
They want to force the first responders to move to the smartphone apps. I feel they are going to regret moving to smartphones. It is not as reliable as the two-way radio. The first responders know it, and they want a backup. I supporrt the first responders who want the radio backup.


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