APCO Files Petitions on 6 GHz Rules, Urging FCC to Protect Public Safety
Friday, May 29, 2020 | Comments

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International filed two formal petitions regarding the FCC’s new 6 GHz rules, approved last month.

APCO’s petition for reconsideration urges the FCC to repeal the new rules and fix numerous problems, and a petition for stay asked the FCC to prohibit the new rules from taking effect until the petition for reconsideration is under review.

“Together, these petitions are just one step short of challenging the FCC’s rules in federal court,” said Jeff Cohen, APCO chief counsel and director of government relations, in a blog. “This is a rare move for APCO, but it was necessary given the real risk of irreparable harm to public safety.”

Cohen said the FCC adopted the new rules without directly addressing public safety’s concerns, which federal judges have said the FCC is required to do by law.

The FCC’s new rules allow operation of unlicensed “standard power” and “low power” transmitters. The commission established different rules for the two types of access points to reduce the likelihood of interference to licensed users such as public safety.

For standard power devices, the ability to prevent interference depends on an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system’s ability to assign frequencies to unlicensed access points by defining exclusion zones that restrict transmissions in locations that could interfere with licensed users. The AFC is a relatively new concept that has never been used for sharing spectrum with public safety. The blog said it’s unclear if any AFC testing will be required or take place.

For low-power devices, the rules do not require an AFC to attempt to prevent unlicensed access points from using the same frequencies being used by public safety. Instead, the FCC made a rule that these devices stay indoors, and the FCC assumes they’ll be too weak to cause interference.

“APCO expressed concern that nothing will prevent people from using these devices outdoors on balconies and rooftops, and even if the devices stay indoors, we don’t necessarily agree with the assumption that building walls and windows will prevent the signals from causing interference,” Cohen said.

In addition, the FCC abandoned an obligation to ensure that interference caused to public safety is promptly identified and eliminated in favor of only “encouraging” the same unlicensed companies that are benefiting from the new rules to voluntarily address these key issues.

“When interference occurs, the only information available to public-safety agencies will be that the microwave link has stopped providing the mission-critical communications it was designed for,” the blog said. “These systems are not designed to detect interference and are incapable of attributing it to a particular source. Attempting to identify the source(s) of interference is a long, resource-intensive, expensive process — particularly when dealing with unlicensed devices — and many questions remain regarding how to promptly eliminate interference after the source has been identified.”

APCO said this is the beginning of what could be a very long process, and there could be irreparable harm if the rules move forward without changes.

The APCO petition for reconsideration is here. The petition for stay is here.

In addition to public safety, other mission-critical communications groups, including the Utilities Technology Council (UTC) have roundly criticized the new 6 GHz rules.

"Opening the 6 GHz band can be done in such a way that can both unleash the new innovations the FCC and others hope for while also protecting the critical infrastructure industries (CII) systems already in the band,” UTC said in a statement after the rules were announced. “Doing so would take time, additional study and stronger protections for incumbent systems. Today, the FCC appears to have decided on taking a much riskier approach that does not control low-power indoor operations using AFC. Nor does the FCC order provide additional testing to prevent interference from occurring or enforcement processes to resolve interference that does occur.

“We submitted real-world studies analyzing what could happen to existing communications networks in the band if the FCC proceeds without adequately protecting these systems from interference. Unfortunately, these studies proved that even at the power levels the FCC approved today, existing licensed communications systems in the band by utilities and other CII will receive harmful interference from unlicensed operations that are not controlled by AFC systems.”

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