Public-Safety Organizations Urge FCC to Drop 4.9 GHz Proposal from September Meeting
Monday, September 28, 2020 | Comments

A variety of public-safety organizations filed with the FCC asking the commission to remove consideration of a report and order that would allow states to lease portions of the 4.9 GHz band from the agenda for its September 30 meeting.

Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the FCC would consider the proposal, which would allow states to lease the spectrum to commercial entities. The spectrum was given to public safety in the early 2000s, and over the past several years, the FCC has been looking at ways to repurpose the spectrum, arguing that the band is underused.

Public-safety organizations contended that the spectrum is only underused because of the regulatory framework governing the band and has urged the FCC to maintain the band for public-safety use. Earlier this summer and prior to Pai’s announcement, the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) urged the FCC to give the spectrum to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

The PSSA also created a petition urging the FCC to give the spectrum to the FirstNet Authority and in a filing asked the FCC to withdraw the leasing proposal. One of the PSSA’s chief concerns was the fact that the states do not have the expertise that the FCC has in coordinating spectrum, which could lead to interference to critical public-safety communications.

Many other public-safety organizations echoed similar concerns. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) said lack of coordinating expertise could lead to interference and said it is concerned that incumbent licensees will not be protected.

“Local public-safety agencies have spent millions of dollars investing in networks on the 4.9 GHz band,” the IAFC filing said. “We ask that the FCC’s order specifically protect the licenses of the incumbent licensees or that the states pay to transfer the incumbent licensees to other spectrum and replace their equipment.”

Additionally, the IAFC said that having states license the spectrum could have a negative impact on cross-state interoperable communications. Many local public-safety agencies rely on regional networks that cross state lines, and states should keep this in mind, the filing said.

The IAFC also questioned whether the band was truly underused and said use may be increasing. The IAFC noted that a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) report found that the number of point-to-point sites on the 4.9 GHz bands increased by 31% between 2015 and 2018.

“With the geographical licensing scheme, it can be hard to determine exactly how many users are specifically operating under a 4.9 GHz license,” the IAFC filing said. “Considering that major cities including New York City and Los Angeles have licenses on the 4.9 GHz band along with states such as Oregon and Tennessee, it seems there may be more users on this band than are currently being counted.”

A coalition of organizations, including the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), NPSTC, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), the Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA), the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) and the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), jointly filed, arguing that public safety had offered reasonable solutions to the 4.9 GHz band for years, but the FCC had ignored them.

“Clearly believing that the 4.9 GHz band is needed for meeting mission-critical requirements, public safety convened task forces and special committees, and submitted multiple public comments with the commission,” the filing said. “Yet the commission ignored public safety’s requests without explanation, issuing multiple notices of proposed rulemakings rather than making the needed regulatory changes. Now, the commission is finally poised to act but, rather than make the reasonable changes public safety asked for, the draft order will threaten public safety’s existing use of the band and prevent public-safety use from growing.”

The joint filing also questioned the effectiveness of allowing states to regulate the spectrum.

“… the commission should not put state governments in a position to dictate spectrum policy and effectively override investments made by public-safety agencies at county and local levels,” the filing said. “Under the draft order, a state entity that has never invested in 4.9 GHz could cash in by granting a statewide lease to a commercial entity, regardless of the opinion, investment and use of 4.9 GHz at the county and local levels, and without any requirements to prioritize or avoid interfering with public-safety use.”

AT&T, which is the FirstNet Authority’s industry partner in building the nationwide public-safety network (NPSBN), also said it was opposed to the proposal.

“AT&T believes that adoption of the draft items would be unlikely to lead to more efficient use of the 4.9 GHz band and could instead result in further fragmentation of the band,” AT&T said in a filing.

T-Mobile argued that the commission should seek more input and consider a proposal that would allow the sale of spectrum rights in the band. T-Mobile also noted that it was against proposals to give the spectrum to FirstNet.

“To more completely promote the value of the 4.9 GHz band, the commission should inquire whether it should permit, but not require, public-safety licensees to sell spectrum rights to non-public-safety entities,” the T-Mobile filing said.

Verizon also voiced opposition to giving the spectrum to the FirstNet Authority.

“The commission provided no notice of, and has no meaningful record to support, that approach, and Congress has provided no authority to support such an assignment of valuable spectrum,” Verizon’s filing said. “We support the draft order’s rejection of that approach.”

Some industry organizations supported new approaches to better utilizing the band but also sought more information on the commission’s proposal. The Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) asked the FCC to clarify how the state licensing process would work, noting that there should be specific requirements and benchmarks for states to meet.

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