Washington State Takes Issue with Sprint 800 MHz Rebanding Request
Tuesday, May 03, 2016 | Comments
The state of Washington filed a scathing response to a Sprint request to condition the state’s waiver request for an extension until the end of the year to complete its 800 MHz rebanding efforts.

On April 5, the state of Washington asked to extend a previously granted waiver for a time extension to complete rebanding by the end of the year. Three sites out of nearly 130 remain to be rebanded, and radio reprogramming can’t begin until all the sites are complete. At least one site is located in a remote area with harsh weather that can’t be accessed until summer.

“This latest extension request by Washington, in its present state, presents substantial concerns and thus should not be granted without the bureau adding specific conditions to any grant it may deem appropriate to make,” the Sprint filing said.

Washington Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) revised infrastructure rebanding plan said the final three sites could be completed by spring 2016, according to the Sprint filing. The project data that accompanied Washington’s extension request lists a July 30 completion date for the third site, Dodge Ridge.

“The state's project plan specifies that all WSDOT site work (including the necessary work at Dodge Ridge) needs to be completed before the final phase two radio subscriber touch starts,” the Sprint filing said. “Sprint wants to encourage the prompt completion of this infrastructure work, final radio subscriber work, equipment return and then reconciliation and close out of the FRA (frequency reconfiguration agreement). This filing is meant in the spirit of fostering the achievement of that goal.”

“We didn’t think the extension request would be an issue because Sprint and the Transition Administrator (TA) were aware and involved in the process,” said Michael Marusich, Washington’s 800 MHz rebanding project manager. “They were heavily involved in everything we did up to the point of the April 5 filing.”

Sprint said the timeline provided with the waiver has no completion dates past end-September, but the state seeks approval for an additional three months to complete the project, until Dec. 31.

“These estimates may or may not include an issue that arose with the need to use alternate frequencies at some sites in phase one, which has itself created new tasks and additional touches to some portion of the WSDOT subscriber radios operating in phase one territory,” Sprint’s filing said. “While Sprint has been advised of this limited ‘third touch,’ it has no details yet from the state as to how quickly this work can be performed.”

Sprint called the timeline “skeletal” and asked the FCC to direct Washington to provide a timeline with all remaining activities through the completion of the project and to update it and share it weekly until all the site and unit work is completed.

“Generally speaking, we believe Sprint has become more concerned about the time to complete rebanding,” said Andy Maxymillian, principal consultant with Blue Wing Services, and a consultant on the project.

Washington’s April 28 opposition in response said that Sprint’s filing demonstrates a lack of internal communications, is self serving and financially motivated, fails to understand the balance of frequency assignments in Washington, and shows complete disregard for the intended nature of rebanding and public safety.

“The state of Washington warned Sprint at the beginning of rebanding negotiations about the unique difficulties that would accompany rebanding in the state,” said Washington’s filing. “Now that those difficulties have been amply demonstrated in the field, Sprint cannot be heard to complain about that of which it had been informed.”

The filing said Sprint is intimately involved in interference findings at WSDOT’s sites, and contractors have performed work without funding in place. Sprint decided to forgo advance engineering studies, partially leading to current frequency and interference problems, the filing said. Sprint also filed its opposition a day late.

The rebanding effort includes two different systems, WSDOT and the Washington Department of Corrections, along with three different vendors. Frequency coordination is difficult in the state because of the lack of spectrum in the border area and within the user-dense Puget Sound region.

Washington asked the FCC to dismiss Sprint’s request to condition its waiver and grant the state’s request for an extension.

“Sprint wants the state to have conditions imposed upon it, despite the fact that these final sites have been the subject of significant frequency problems, primarily interference related, all of which Sprint (and the TA) have been fully informed about during weekly conference calls ever since the problems were discovered,” Washington’s filing said.

Elizabeth Sachs, partner with Lukas, Nace, Gutierrez & Sachs, has done 800 MHz rebanding work for numerous clients, but is not legal counsel for Washington state. “I think we all recognized pretty early on in the process that the original rebanding deadlines were not realistic,” she said. “But rather than change them, the FCC set up a process whereby incumbents could get extensions. I’m not aware that the FCC has ever denied such a waiver request, but I only know about my own projects and what I’ve heard anecdotally.”

In an April 1 report to the FCC on the status of 800 MHz band configuration, Sprint said 42 out of the 55 National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) regions have completed rebanding. All the remaining regions with more than one licensee left to complete rebanding are border regions, and all are on the U.S./Mexican border except Washington.

Alan Tilles, chairman of the Shulman Rogers Telecommunications Department, said he is aware of similar activity by Sprint in the Mexican border area.

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