Public Safety, Industry Question T-Band Auction Effectiveness, Ability to Relocate Incumbents
Thursday, September 03, 2020 | Comments

A variety of public-safety and industry entities argued that an auction of the T-band spectrum will not be successful and finding spectrum to relocate incumbents will be costly and difficult in comments to the FCC.

Section 6103 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) mandates that the FCC repurpose and auction the T-band by 2021. FCC commissioners have urged Congress to repeal that particular section of the act but moved forward with a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the band, noting that they had to follow the FCC’s statutory responsibilities.

Public-safety entities use the T-band spectrum in eleven major metropolitan areas, and many public-safety organizations and other T-band users argued that there is not sufficient spectrum to move every incumbent to and that a potential auction of the spectrum would be unlikely to succeed.

“There is a risk that, even with a successful auction and comprehensive approach to covering relocation costs, public-safety agencies will not be made whole,” the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International said in its filing.

APCO said that because it is unclear what other spectrum is available for incumbents to move to, it is unknown what overall relocation costs will be. Additionally, changing equipment and troubleshooting new systems could strain public-safety operations and budgets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

APCO said that the FCC should attempt as best as possible to limit the likelihood that public-safety licensees would be forced to relocate. APCO agreed with the FCC’s proposal that relocation should only happen if net winning bids exceed the total estimated costs of relocating all public-safety T-band licensees subject to mandatory relocation.

Additionally, APCO said that the FCC should not require licensees to relocate on a city-by-city or channel-by-channel basis where bids exceed cost estimates.

“In the event that only some public-safety licensees are relocated, those that remain in the band would face higher costs due to the smaller market for public-safety equipment and services in the band,” the filing said.

Several agencies that currently use the T-band spectrum said that auctioning the spectrum would greatly affect their operations.

“LA County believes that the subject NPRM poses the proper questions with regard to the relocation mandate,” Los Angeles County, California said in its filing. “However, the NPRM does not provide any guidance on potential alternative spectrum for relocating public-safety agencies. While LA County understands this may be the result of the commission’s inability to find any suitable spectrum, it nevertheless results in a relocation variable of enormous proportions.”

The county described its T-band operations as “expansive, substantial and vital to public safety” and said that there is no alternative spectrum that it could move to. Additionally, the county said an auction of the spectrum would be unlikely to provide the funding necessary to pay for LA County’s relocation to other spectrum.

“Given all of the infirmaries in relocation, LA County supports the commission’s concept to permit LA County to remain in the T-band, as at least a portion of LA County’s T-band system is not covered by the Section 6103, entitling LA County to have its entire system remain in the band.”

The city of Glendale, California, said it and many of its neighbors depend on T-band networks for their primary fire, law enforcement, emergency medical services (EMS) and government operations.

“There is no viable spectrum alternative within the affected markets,” Glendale’s filing said. “Our Los Angeles region is void of alternative spectrum suitable for public-safety LMR deployment. The T-band was allocated to public safety some five decades past as a direct result of the absence of viable spectrum in those market areas. That situation has not changed.”

Glendale said that the timeline presented in the act is too short for any sort of auction and effective relocation, especially during a global pandemic.

“The two-year window presented in the act with respect to migration away from the T-band is wholly unrealistic and unattainable,” the filing said. “A more realistic time period would entail a minimum of 5 years … Economies in the aftermath of COVID-19 are highly uncertain. Neither local, state nor federal budgets can afford to bear the cost of a T-band reallocation, especially given the estimated shortfall of any auction proceeds and the cost of rebuilding and sustainment.”

The New York Police Department (NYPD), another T-band user, also questioned the fiscal and time constraints of a proposed relocation. The police department estimated that the procurement process for a new system like the one it currently uses would take at least more than one year, and the deployment process would take even longer. The police department noted that relocation of a NYPD radio system, which is much simpler than the current one, caused by FCC action in the 1970s took many years.

“Given the complexity of the NYPD radio system, and the necessity to maintain seamless police radio communications, the time required to deploy a parallel system would likely be more than three years, particularly when considering that the current NYPD radio system is far larger and more complex than the NYPD radio system of the 1970s,” the filing said. “This estimate only applies to the deployment of a parallel system and is not the time estimate for a total system migration, which would likely exceed eight years.”

In its filing, the Government Wireless Technology and Communications Association (GWTCA) said that while it feels the FCC addressed many key points about relocation in the NPRM, the most important point — replacement spectrum — was missing.

“Since the industry and the commission have not been able to identify fallow spectrum for relocation, it is therefore incumbent upon the commission to undertake a review of spectrum presently assigned for other users which can be reassigned for public safety,” the filing said. Spectrum for relocation must have several characteristics that severely limit the choices, the GWTCA said. In order to meet these requirements, the spectrum must be compatible with users’ current multiband operations, conducive to public-safety push-to-talk (PTT) operations, have a primary allocation for public safety and have operating costs that are not prohibitive for public-safety entities. Additionally, if equipment for the spectrum is not currently type accepted for LMR operations, research and development (R&D) costs for manufacturers may need to be paid.

“If the commission is able to locate such new spectrum, it must ensure a program is put into place that ensures that all reasonable costs for relocation are paid, and that adequate time for the relocation is provided,” the GWTCA said. “Relocation costs are more than just an agency’s costs but also relate to the costs of radio manufacturers and public-safety agencies that are interoperable with relocating agencies.”

In a joint filing, the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) described the auction as a “fool’s errand” and urged Congress to repeal the mandate. The EWA and API filing noted that in addition to relocating public-safety incumbents, it is important that the FCC implement a transition process for industrial/business (I/B) incumbents should an auction occur.

“The FCC explains this in clear, albeit understated, terms when it concludes that ‘Allowing non-public-safety incumbents to remain in the T-band would result in continued co-channel use of spectrum in a limited geographic area, which likely will prevent broadcast or wireless use by an overlay licensee,’ ” the filing said. “In fact, it would mean auctioning individual 20 kilohertz channels that might have immediately adjacent I/B systems that would be entitled to interference protection.”

The original act did not specifically address I/B incumbents in the spectrum, and so the FCC in its NPRM suggested an overlay auction of six megahertz blocks. Under that proposal, an overlay auction licensee would be allowed to operate within the channel block provided that the frequency is not assigned to an I/B or public-safety incumbent; the incumbent has vacated the frequency either pursuant to the act’s mandate or because of a voluntary transition or acquisition agreement, failure to renew or discontinuance of operation; and the incumbent and overlay licensee agree to allow the auction licensee to operate despite the incumbent’s presence. The EWA and API said that this is the only rational approach to such an auction.

Nationwide carrier T-Mobile argued that making additional spectrum available for commercial wireless operations on an exclusive, geographically-licensed basis needs to remain an FCC priority but said that auctioning the T-band will not meaningfully help meet spectrum needs of 5G networks. T-Mobile said that the proposals outlined in the NPRM would not make the spectrum useful to commercial wireless providers.

“If the commission is nevertheless required to proceed, it may wish to consider other actions that would make the band more useful for commercial operations and therefore more attractive to potential bidders,” T-Mobile said in its filing. “However, the better approach is for the commission to pursue other alternatives to make additional spectrum available.”

Verizon echoed a similar sentiment in its own filing and said that an auction would be unlikely to provide enough funds to cover relocation of incumbents.

“The spectrum holds little value for commercial wireless services due to the lack of nationwide availability,” said Verizon’s filing. “The auctioned spectrum in most markets would not all be contiguous. And the T-band spectrum will be adjacent to high-powered broadcast television transmitters. All of these factors will diminish auction participation and limit auction revenue.”

The National Public-Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) argued that there is no public interest in moving forward with a T-band auction. The organization said that public safety needs to know that Congress has repealed the act instead of having the threat of the auction and relocation hanging over incumbents.

“If Congress fails to repeal this ‘T-band mandate’ it adopted in 2012, the result is significant disruption to public safety, the likelihood of a failed auction, an unfunded mandate for public-safety relocation, no viable identified spectrum relocation home and unnecessary costs ultimately borne by taxpayers,” NPSTC said in is filing. “Accordingly, NPSTC appreciates the commission’s dilemma in implementing the law as Congress mandated and thanks the commission for including some common sense protocols in its NPRM.”

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On 9/9/20, Don Poquette said:
If I remember correctly Public Safety was allocated space in the 700 MHz band in exchange to vacate the T-Band section.


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