T-Band Fact Versus Fiction
By Mark Crosby
Tuesday, April 02, 2019 | Comments
Many in the industry are familiar with the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, passed by Congress in 2012, which mandates repurposing the critical 470 – 512 MHz (T-band) spectrum for consumer-based uses following an FCC auction. Regardless of whether the congressional decision to take this heavily used band away from public safety — and collaterally from business entities — in exchange for 700 MHz spectrum for a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) was prudent policy, the private land mobile industry is now stuck with the impending consequences.

This article aims to minimize confusion and provide T-band licensees with reliable information they can use when making strategic decisions regarding their communications systems.

Fact — The act requires that not “later than nine years after the date of enactment,” the FCC must reallocate the spectrum and commence an auction, the proceeds of which will be used by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to allocate grants that cover relocation costs for public-safety entities. The FCC has until Feb. 21, 2021, to begin the auction process, and public-safety licensees are required to vacate the band two years after the auction is completed. Notably, the act failed to recognize business enterprises that also occupy the T-band.

FictionIncumbent licensees are required to leave the band in 2021. The FCC is required to start an auction process in 2021 that eventually will trigger relocation. No one in authority has any idea at this time when licensees will need to leave the band regardless of the act’s provisions. Beware of anyone who says otherwise. The FCC has yet to release a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would initiate the public discourse on how T-band will be repurposed, how business enterprises systems will be treated given their absence in the act, how the auction will be conducted, exactly when the auction will commence, how auction proceeds will be disbursed by NTIA to cover relocation costs, what happens if the auction proceeds are not enough to cover public-safety relocation costs, and what comparable spectrum is supposed to accommodate the requirements of displaced T-band incumbents. Until these questions are answered, it is not possible to identify an absolute relocation date. Relocation is “years away” is a safe estimate.

FictionIf we voluntarily relocate from T-band now, we will be entitled to compensation from the auction proceeds. Any licensee who leaves the band now will not receive an NTIA grant to cover its relocation costs. In accordance with the FCC’s rules, if licensees vacate the T-band, they are required to cancel their licenses. It is near impossible to game this process because NTIA surely will not provide remuneration to former licensees that vacated the band on their own accord or have not operated a system within T-band for a year or more. Licenses automatically cancel under the later instance. Having been persuaded to leave the band early based on inaccurate information or misunderstanding will not serve as an excuse.

FictionThe “Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act” has significant bipartisan momentum in the House and Senate, will soon pass and be signed into law by the president, enabling T-band incumbents to remain in place. While efforts to reverse the craziness of the act are well intentioned, that optimistic outcome has substantial policy obstacles, even for the public-safety lobby. The T-band was originally repurposed as an economic quid-pro-quo in return for public safety receiving a 10-megahertz allocation at 700 MHz necessary to build the NPSBN overseen by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). If T-band is to be returned to public safety and business enterprises, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) first must determine that the federal budget will not be adversely affected. One way to address that would be by surrendering other public-safety spectrum with auction revenue potential equal to or greater than whatever the CBO thought auctioning the T-band might bring. The strategy of identifying an alternative block of spectrum that may be exchanged for T-band has not received universal support, nor is there consensus on what band should be under consideration, although 4.9 GHz has been mentioned. And the clock keeps ticking toward 2021.

FictionThe FCC will lift the T-band application freeze. Despite all efforts, the FCC is disinclined to allow almost any flexibility, even to incumbent licenses, on the premise that the spectrum landscape must not be altered in any way that might reduce future auction proceeds. Incumbents may, however, incorporate spectrum-efficient technologies within their systems that require new emission designators and may add or relocate sites as long as previously authorized service areas are not expanded. Assignments of authorizations are also permitted subject to rules governing those transactions.

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Since 2004, Mark E. Crosby has served as president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), a national association representing the interests of business enterprises that rely on wireless communications systems. Crosby 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 to pioneer spectrum band management for private wireless licensees deploying voice and data technologies. 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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Comments
On 4/3/19, Tim Totten said:
Thanks for the very informative update.

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