PSSA Asks FCC to Stay, Reconsider New 4.9 GHz Rules
Wednesday, December 30, 2020 | Comments

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) filed petitions asking for reconsideration and a stay of the FCC’s recent decision to allow states to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial and other entities.

“In adopting the sixth report and order in the above captioned proceeding, the commission failed to rectify the deficiencies in its rules that resulted in the underutilization of the 4940 – 4990 MHz spectrum band and to fulfill its statutorily mandated purpose of promoting public safety,” the group’s petition for reconsideration. “Instead of fixing the flaws in its rules that limited public-safety utilization of the band, the commission seemingly used such underutilization as an excuse to repurpose the band for commercial entities.”

In September, the FCC approved a report and order to allow states to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial entities. Since shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the spectrum has been exclusively for public-safety. However, for several years prior to the report and order, the FCC had been looking at ways to revitalize the band, arguing that it was currently underused.

Under the report and order, states would be able to lease open 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial or critical infrastructure entities. The rules grandfather in existing public-safety licensees, but those licensees cannot modify their licenses if it would expand their operations.

“The commission’s decision to eliminate long-standing dedicated use of the band for public safety and cede its nationwide spectrum management authority to each of the states, which do not have spectrum management experience or allocated resources necessary to manage the band, will most certainly result in a patchwork of different rules, different users and different use cases, as well as put the integrity of public-safety communications at risk,” the PSSA petition for reconsideration said.

At the time the FCC approved the rules by a 3-2 vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argued that opening up to the band to commercial use would like to innovation because the new spectrum would give vendors an incentive to invest in new devices.

“Contrary to one of the commission’s primary justifications for its decision to change the rules governing the band, its action will serve as a disincentive to industry to invest in the devices and technology utilizing the 4.9 GHz band due to the resulting lack of consistent and predictable volume of users and economies of scale necessary to incentivize investment in the band,” the petition said.

PSSA argued that the FCC’s order failed to address the many concerns raised by public-safety entities prior to and after its approval.

“In particular, the order fails to adequately address the multitude of concerns raised by the public-safety community in the record about taking the band away from exclusive public-safety use and opening it up for commercial and other purposes, and to explain why more effective service rules for public-safety licensees would not have been a more rational way to improve the band’s utilization while not jeopardizing public safety’s use of the band,” the filing said. “… Put simply the order is devoid of a rationale with any support in the record for the commission’s arbitrary decision.”

The PSSA said that the FCC should vacate the order and have its Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) meet with the PSSA and other interested parties to find a better path forward, including “rational spectrum management options” to ensure better utilization of the band and safeguards to ensure that public safety can continue to utilize the band without interference.

“The reality is that the public-safety mission does not stop at state borders, and ensuring fully prioritized, secure and interoperable communications for public-safety is paramount and should take precedence over any secondary commercial use,” the petition said. “In addition, the commission should explore alternative options for achieving the goal of protecting public safety’s use while also expanding overall utilization of the band. Several commenters have submitted proposals aimed at increasing public-safety utilization of the band, which were not addressed by the commission in the order.”

The PSSA also filed a petition for a stay, asking the FCC to delay the rules from going into effect until the FCC resolves its petition for reconsideration.

The PSSA formed earlier this year and one of its first goals was to get the FCC to give the 4.9 GHz spectrum to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to manage and use it as public-safety’s need for spectrum for services such as broadband increases.

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