FCC Approves Rules Allowing States to Lease 4.9 GHz Spectrum to Commercial Entities
Wednesday, September 30, 2020 | Comments

The FCC approved a report and order that would allow states to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial entities despite strong opposition from public safety during its Sept. 30 meeting.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr all supported the proposal while Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks dissented with the proposal.

The report and order adopts a voluntary leasing framework for the 50 megahertz of spectrum in the band in an attempt to increase use of the band. Under the proposal, eligible states would have the opportunity to lease some or all of their spectrum to commercial or critical infrastructure entities.

Each state that chooses to lease spectrum will designate a single statewide 4.9 GHz licensee as the state lessor. The state lessor would then have the ability to lease the spectrum to entities for non-public-safety operations. The proposal grandfathers existing public-safety licensees into the band, but those licensees cannot modify their licenses if it would expand their operations.

The report and order limits the issuance of new 4.9 GHz licenses to state entities and states without an existing statewide license. The version the FCC considered at the meeting also included a provision that would make states that divert 9-1-1 fees to non-9-1-1 purposes ineligible to take part in the leasing process.

The FCC first granted the spectrum to public safety in 2002. In recent years, the FCC has been looking at ways to increase use of the band, arguing that it is currently underused. Public safety has strongly opposed the proposal, arguing that it has presented reasonable proposals for increasing public-safety use of the band to the FCC in the past, but the FCC rejected those proposals. Public-safety entities have argued that the underuse of the band is because of a poor regulatory framework.

“I certainly respect and support our public-safety officials and truly appreciate all that they do to protect our communities,” O’Rielly said. “No commission should let spectrum lay fallow based on the notion that some day, the allocation just might possibly be used for its intended purpose.”

He called the proposal sound but noted that once he saw the proposal he had requested that the commission consider full commercialization of the band while protecting incumbents instead of moving forward with the leasing proposal. That request was rejected, and O’Rielly noted that he had some concerns about the proposal but was in favor of it because it begins moving the band toward increased usage.

O’Rielly also praised the addition of the 9-1-1 fee diversion provision into the proposal. O’Rielly has been a champion of ending 9-1-1 fee diversion by states.

“A bit later on today’s agenda, we’ll consider a notice of inquiry (NOI) in dealing with these issues in a holistic matter, but here, we can immediately lock in righteous policy change that ensures current users will pay a price for their malfeasance and seek comment on a broader approach including how to treat diverting states in the future,” O’Rielly said.

In his comments, Carr argued that only about 2% of eligible public-safety entities had licenses in the band and noted that the FCC was taking steps to fix the many issues facing the band.

“We do so by empowering local leaders, not those of us sitting here in Washington, to determine the highest and best use of this spectrum based on those officials’ own assessment of local needs,” he said.

Carr said that what to do with the spectrum would be up to the states, and they could choose to keep that spectrum for public-safety use, or they could lease the spectrum and use the proceeds from it to support public-safety and mission-critical needs.

“They have the choice, and I trust them to make the right call for their communities,” Carr said.

In his comments, Pai also noted the underuse of the band and said the FCC was looking to put the valuable spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band to better use.

“Less than one in 25 potential licensees has obtained a license to the spectrum,” Pai said. “Less one in 25 uses this critical public resource. Well, half a decade later, this unacceptable state of affairs persists, the 4.9 GHz band remains valuable spectrum, and it remains underused and in legislative limbo.”

Pai argued that the proposal will allow states to determine how to best maximize the spectrum to fit their needs.

“We give lessors the rights to choose what is best for the citizens of their state,” Pai said. “They can enter into leases with public-safety and non-public-safety entities alike. If an eligible state wants to lease to FirstNet for use in the public-safety broadband network, they can do that.”

Prior to the release of the report and order, the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance had urged the FCC to give the 4.9 spectrum to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to be used for future public-safety spectrum needs.

“The 4.9 GHz band is well suited to meet this nation’s growing demand for mid-band spectrum, and this commission will not stand idly by and let the spectrum continue to largely lay fallow. The arrangements will create opportunities for access while protecting the incumbent safety operations and generate substantial potential revenues states can use to strengthen public-safety services.”

Starks and Rosenworcel noted that there was little support for the proposal filed by the public in the FCC’s filing system and much opposition from public safety.

“The decision is unfortunate and not the right way forward for the 4.9 GHz band and is a slap-dash effort to try to foster use of this spectrum by giving states the right to divert public-safety communications in exchange for revenue,” Rosenworcel said.

Rosenworcel noted that a few years ago the FCC had sought comment on ways to increase use of the band by public safety only to now determine that public safety no longer need the band.

“What a mess,” she said. “It didn’t have to be this way. There’s a reason so many entities have come together to oppose the reorganization of the 4.9 GHz band. … They’re onto something. Today’s effort to remake the 4.9 GHz band misses the mark.”

Rosenworcel explained what she saw as three major issues with the proposal. First, she said, it threatens to do long-lasting damage to public-safety. Breaking up the band into a state-leasing framework could fragment an already fragmented equipment market, raise costs and decrease the likelihood of interoperability between different agencies.

Second, Rosenworcel said the proposal adopts what she called “stale licensing” policies that she said would make it more difficult for reform in the future. Finally, she also argued that the proposal would not increase investment in the band.

“This approach will only fragment these airwaves on a state-by-state basis,” she said. “There will be no consistent and reliable information about what spectrum is available where or how it is being used, making it difficult, if not impossible, for wireless service providers to plan or invest in deployments.”

Starks argued that while the band appears to be underused, there are a number of agencies that do rely on the band for public-safety communications, noting that there are currently 4,000 public-safety sites and more than 2,000 geographic licenses in the band.

He also echoed Rosenworcel’s comments that the proposal had seemingly come out of nowhere because the FCC had in the past sought comments on how to improve public-safety use of the band. He said he was concerned with the way that FCC had gone about this proposal, arguing that none of the FCC’s previous rulemakings or proposals in the band had included the state licensing framework before.

“And beyond the procedural flaws, this decision is likely to have serious policy consequences,” Starks said. “By pushing management of 4.9 GHz to states, the majority risks creating dozens of inconsistent approaches to this valuable spectrum. States have vastly different interest in levels of spectrum expertise and undoubtedly will take different operations on interoperability and interference and protection. As a result, the public-safety usage of this 4.9 band may actually become less efficient, less secure and less reliable.”

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International denounced the commission's decision.

"Prior to today's order, the FCC's rules hamstrung public safety from making the best use of this important spectrum band," a statement from the association said. "For years, public safety repeatedly offered specific proposals to the FCC to improve these rules so that law enforcement, fire, EMS and 9-1-1 professionals could benefit from the multitude of broadband applications this band would make possible. Instead of granting these requested rules changes, the amjority continued the false narrative that public safety is to blame for any underutilization and ignored public safety's needs in an attempt to benefit commercial users.

"Further the FCC took this action while failing to provide sufficient notice of its actions," APCO's statement said. "With public-safety professionals facing unprecendented national emergencies and natural disasters, the timing of the majority's action is especially unfortunate and misguided."

The PSSA said it was considering further steps it could take to maintain the spectrum for public safety.

“From our point of view, our effort is not over,” said Chris Moore, a former police chief who is part of the PSSA leadership team. “Our legal counsel is preparing a list of options for consideration. Once we have reviewed these options, we will quickly move forward and take action to seek reversal of this clearly arbitrary and harmful decision.

“We would also like to publicly thank those commissioners that voted against this ill-conceived plan,” Moore said. “As we said during the battle for the D block, ‘public-safety leaders don’t quit when it comes to the safety of the public we serve.’ ”

Would you like to comment on this story? Find our comments system below.



 
 
Post a comment
Name: *
Email: *
Title: *
Comment: *
 

Comments
On 10/8/20, bdriver109 said:
My guess ATT needs an additional 5G spectrum alternative. The states leasing what was once Public Safety Spectrum what an interesting crazy twist. No need for a spectrum auction. Follow the

On 10/7/20, dave hegarty said:

sorry what is a 4.9 ghz band
that is mentioned here
what if the bandwidth and frequencirs

Site Navigation

Close