900 MHz Incumbents Express Concerns with PDV/EWA Realignment Plan
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
Most 900 MHz incumbent licensee comments oppose the Pacific DataVision (PDV) and Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) petition that asks the FCC to realign the band to allow broadband operations. Commenters cited interference concerns, lack of technical and cost details in the plan, and disagreement with the petition’s suggestion to freeze the band to prepare for the proposed realignment, among others.

In September, PDV acquired all of Sprint’s 900 MHz spectrum licenses. In November, PDV and EWA filed a petition asking the FCC to reconfigure the 10 megahertz of the 896 – 901 MHz paired with 935 – 940 MHz to allow a 3-megahertz contiguous block for private enterprise broadband (PEBB). The remaining 2 megahertz of spectrum could be used for narrowband push-to-talk (PTT) services by the band’s many critical infrastructure industry (CII) users, the proposal said.

In the petition for rulemaking, PDV offered to facilitate the realignment by exchanging its 900 MHz licenses with those of incumbents that prefer to continue operating narrowband systems. PDV and EWA proposed that broadband licenses issued to PDV and others would be conditioned by the FCC with the obligation to grant priority access to CII entities, subject to negotiation of terms and conditions of the parties.

Although most commenters noted the need for dedicated spectrum for CII broadband use, they also said the PDV/EWA plan isn’t the best answer.

Duke Energy, which operates a 900 MHz mission-critical communications network, called the plan “fatally flawed” in its comments, saying the plan would force it to move to a narrow part of the band, reduce the number of business/industrial land transportation (B/ILT) channels, increase the noise floor of the channels that remain, and require a licensing freeze that could last years and severely limit Duke’s ability to modify and expand its 900 MHz systems.

“Rather than providing what is needed — allowing CII direct and exclusive access to the spectrum it needs to support vital broadband requirements — the petition would put that spectrum exclusively in the hands of a commercial entity based upon a vague promise to make that spectrum available to CII entities at an unspecified and potentially excessive price,” Duke Energy said.

Other utilities and energy companies that opposed the petition include Westar Energy, the Salt River Project, Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Alliant Energy, PECO Energy Co. and DuPont. Many cited interference concerns and suggested that they would have fewer channels after realignment with no expansion possibilities.

Kenwood also opposed the petition in its comments, calling the proposal “self serving,” and said the petition should be dismissed without further action.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), which originally had discussed filing the petition with PDV and EWA, said the plan isn’t fully developed. The National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) said the petition doesn’t offer enough technical details and leaves many unanswered questions. The Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) was more positive toward the plan, citing the dire need for broadband spectrum for CII entities, but agreed that more specifics about the impact to narrowband licensees are needed. UTC also said EWA shouldn’t be the exclusive coordinator for the realignment.

Oncor Electric Delivery Co. said the commission should hold hearings to gain more information on the proposal. NRTC, Southern Co., Northeast Utilities and others said a notice of inquiry (NOI) process should be used for more information gathering and analysis before deciding whether to begin a proceeding.

Five entities, Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC), Anthem Propane Exchange, ESP Wireless Technology Group, SunTalk and Motorola Solutions, expressed support for the petition.

“The proposed network would be an essential element in meeting future broadband requirements and providing access to a network that could not exist unless the FCC allocates additional broadband spectrum to CII similar to what Congress authorized for public safety,” said the OUC comments.

PDV is planning to work with Motorola Solutions to build a nationwide narrowband PTT network in the short term using its newly acquired 900 MHz spectrum. Motorola Solutions agreed to lease a portion of the spectrum from a PDV subsidiary. The nationwide two-way radio network will be offered primarily through Motorola Solutions’ authorized dealer network, said PDV Vice Chairman Morgan O’Brien last year after the Sprint spectrum acquisition. PDV executives have not announced which Motorola digital technology the company will deploy for the nationwide PTT network.

“In large part, the capacity needed to develop 900 MHz PEBB networks is readily available with the recent retirement of Sprint’s iDEN network that formerly occupied the 900 MHz SMR channels,” said Motorola in its comments. “In essence, PDV is asking for relatively modest regulatory relief that would minimize the regulatory burdens associated with consolidating its existing, vacant SMR channels that are scattered across the 900 MHz band.”

“I have a lot of experience with and respect for the FCC process from prior rebanding proceedings, particularly this initial phase in which incumbents on the affected spectrum have their first chance to put their questions and concerns on the record,” O'Brien said in a Jan. 15 statement. “Any change to an established radio environment, particularly among the entities that use their radio systems for vital services, often involving the safety of life, must be considered with great care. Comments filed this week voice a variety of concerns and identify technical issues that must be examined by the FCC in a rulemaking proceeding.”

Comments on the petition were due Jan. 12, and reply comments are due Jan. 27. The proceeding number is RM-11738.

Editor's Note: This article was updated Jan. 15.

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