Spectrum Policy Time Warp
By Mark E. Crosby
Tuesday, October 03, 2017 | Comments

Waiting for results for an extended period of time can warp one’s memory. This applies to spectrum policy. Over time, advocates on one side or the other of regulatory matters may be unwilling or willingly prone to forget initial objectives and relevant facts, as well as completely lose sight of all reasonableness.

I don’t intend to upset anyone, but you must agree that waiting 11 years — and still counting — for 800 MHz rebanding to come to some form of closure along the Mexican border is less than optimum for U.S. interests. Freezes are a horrible spectrum management tool. They damage commerce, prohibit the use of valuable spectrum, disregard wireless communications planning, and devalue system investments for business enterprises, critical infrastructure and mission-critical entities. I wonder if the FCC has conducted a cost/benefit analysis on this delay?

Therefore, can you blame the Arizona Public Service Co. (APSC), a legitimate contender for the 800 MHz spectrum that is unmercifully frozen in southern Arizona, from seeking a waiver of the rules to secure access to this critical spectrum, which realistically perhaps only APSC could put to good use immediately to serve the interests of U.S. citizens?

The Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) supported APSC’s waiver request to access expansion band (EB) spectrum (860 MHz) for use in a new statewide, 57-site, digital system. APSC requested two new 800 MHz business/industrial land transportation (B/ILT) channels, some of which are EB channels, at each location in addition to reusing current 800 MHz channels throughout the system. APSC committed to surrendering channels no longer needed once the cutover to the new system is complete and successful. These channels would then become available to other licensees.

It is a very fair proposal. A letter from the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA) stating that it “concurs with the issuance of this authorization and does not foresee any impact on 800 MHz band reconfiguration resulting from grant of the application” accompanied APSC’s applications. Because the purpose of the 800 MHz licensing freeze is to ensure that spectrum is available for rebanding purposes, the TA letter confirms that the waiver requested would not have that effect.

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) supported APSC’s waiver request, highlighting the FCC’s public notice that indicated the APSC request selected frequencies that will neither cause interference to incumbent licensees nor disrupt the rebanding process. From a policy perspective, NPSTC stated that APSC “serves as an example of the very type of applicant that NPSTC had in mind in supporting an advance filing window for incumbent licensees.”

But after such a long time, parties may lose sight of the original intended benefits and fall back on fuzzy recollections of long-ago discussions. The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International filed comments that suggest an unfamiliarity with the APSC filing and the rules governing 800 MHz EB spectrum. APCO recommended that if a waiver is granted, APSC should “be held accountable and ensure that it will immediately act, at its own cost, to resolve any issues it causes that impact the needs of public-safety licensees to access channels during the rebanding process.” However, the TA, charged with overseeing the assignment of replacement channels to all systems subject to rebanding, was on record saying that granting the waiver would have no such effect. If the TA was mistaken in that conclusion, why would APSC be responsible for correcting the error?

APCO also urged the commission to be cautious in allowing APSC to access B/ILT EB channels because “certain public-safety licensees are eligible for EB channels, and thus would rightfully benefit from the priority under consideration.” But there are no EB channels assigned for public-safety use. In a 2015 public notice, the FCC stated, “to accommodate public-safety licensees exercising their option to retune, the commission (1) reclassified 12 SMR channels below the expansion band as public-safety channels and (2) reclassified the 12 public-safety channels in the expansion band as SMR channels, but allowed public-safety licensees to remain on those channels notwithstanding their reclassification.” Public-safety licensees that chose to remain on EB channels are permitted to modify their systems, including expanding their contours, but there are no additional EB channels for which they are eligible. By contrast, APSC is eligible for the requested B/ILT EB channels, and there should be no fear of disadvantaging future public-safety waiver applicants. It is understandable that after such a long period, rules, policies and objectives can become all catawampus in one’s mind.

License Renewal
And, in another matter, seven years ago the FCC launched a regulatory proceeding with the intent of recovering spectrum perhaps not in use when licensees filed their renewal applications as one tool in its arsenal to contribute to recovering 500 megahertz of spectrum for broadband. EWA thought it was a great idea and certainly would have substantial benefits in the predominately site-specific-based spectrum-access world. Remember that the FCC caused all kinds of consternation when it started adding a special condition on licenses warning that the future of the license itself was subject to the outcome of this proceeding? As if the license might be yanked at some future but unknown date? But then remarkably, the commission went dark as it pursued more urgent telecom priorities. Everyone got worked up, and then nothing happened for some six years until earlier this year when the proceeding suddenly resurfaced after being comatose for five years or so. On Aug. 3, the FCC released its second report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking in WT Docket No. 10-112, establishing among others, “uniform license renewal and discontinuance of operation” rules.

A quirky and unexplained policy adopted in this proceeding is the FCC’s decision to exempt public-safety licensees from discontinuance of operation notifications at renewal. No one recalls requesting such an exemption seven years ago, and the FCC’s order did not recognize the 2010 Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) recommendation that public safety be included in whatever obligations are applicable to similarly situated non-public-safety licensees, nor did the commission take time to explain why that recommendation was rejected even after the LMCC reminded the FCC of its earlier position.

Shouldn’t all classes of licensees be accountable for properly managing the nation’s spectrum resources, at least the pieces they use? Accessing the nation’s spectrum resources is not a right but a privilege. The care and associated responsibilities that one assumes as a spectrum licensee should not be minimized under the claim that there is a lack of resources within the public-safety community to manage the licenses.

Are you kidding? Find the resources! No one should get a free pass! The FCC did not justify the exemption policy other than the vague statement that “these policies do not extend to public-safety licensees.” And then to add salt to the wound, an FCC footnote said, “No public-safety entity has commented in the proceeding requesting application of the renewal framework to public-safety licensees. In fact … APCO no longer supports LMCC’s position or recommendations.” What about the five other critical public-safety organizations that did support the LMCC position listed on the first page of the LMCC letter? Why were their opinions ignored?

As one respected public-safety official commented, “Renewing licenses that are not being used presents a significant challenge to frequency coordination. Unused licenses should be canceled so that the channels can be assigned to legitimate users.”

Does anyone care to listen?

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Mark E. Crosby has served as president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) since 2004. Crosby is a member of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, which advises the assistant secretary for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on spectrum policy issues, and serves as an officer and member of the board of directors of the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC). Prior to joining EWA, Crosby was president of Access Spectrum, a company he co-founded in 2000. From 1975 until 2000, Crosby served as president of the Special Industrial Radio Service Association, and following radio service consolidation, the Industrial Telecommunications Association (ITA).

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