FirstNet Fires Back at Interoperability Complaints

Courtesy of TR Daily

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson fired back today at critics who bemoan a lack of interoperability with the nationwide public safety broadband network that AT&T, Inc. is building under a contract with FirstNet.

“Recent claims that there is a lack of interoperability with FirstNet and that special interoperability solutions are needed are simply not true—they ring hollow for those who understand the value of a nationwide public safety broadband network and that rely on FirstNet to keep them mission ready every day,” Mr. Parkinson said in a blog posting. “They depend on us for public safety standardized features, such as Mission Critical Push-to-Talk, aka FirstNet Push to Talk, and things as simple as sending a text to a public safety counterpart using another commercial wireless service. Because we are fully committed to international standards, they all work seamlessly.

“In fact, the 2012 legislation that created the FirstNet Authority not only called for our broadband network to be based on 3GPP standards, but required us to be actively involved in standards organizations representing public safety,” Mr. Parkinson added. “This legislation recognized that standards-based solutions not only provide interoperability, but also foster creative innovation for Mission Critical services, provide economies of scale, and provide for multiple suppliers of services which typically leads to lower costs. To reinforce this commitment to standards, our contract with AT&T requires the use of interoperable standards-based solutions.”

He said that FirstNet “has been actively working to develop standards for mission critical services in 3GPP since 2012. In collaboration with global public safety colleagues in 3GPP and AT&T, the FirstNet Authority led the charge to complete standards for mission critical services, such as Push-to-Talk, Video, and Data, including enablers such as direct mode device-to-device (D2D) and group communication services (e.g. Multimedia Broadcast Multicast Services (MBMS). We continue to work on enhancing these standards and evolving them for inclusion in 5G and ensure that the needs of first responders are addressed, now and in the future. In addition to the work in 3GPP, the FirstNet Authority and AT&T have been actively involved in developing standards for interworking new broadband mission critical services with legacy Land Mobile Radio systems.  

“We are responsible for keeping public safety’s unique communication needs at the forefront of technology and as a result, FirstNet is the fully operable communications network that public safety asked for, it is available today and, as public safety’s communications needs advance, it will continue to grow and evolve for decades to come,” Mr. Parkinson stressed.

Earlier this month, Verizon Communications, Inc., which offers a public safety service that competes with FirstNet, called on industry to join together to ensure there is “true” interoperability for first responders (TR Daily, Oct. 15).

“We cannot achieve true interoperability … until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards. Verizon isn’t waiting for that; we have partnered with Mutualink to enable first responders to easily create secure group communications for improved collaboration and data sharing in near-real time, giving agencies greater control and choice when cross-agency communications are mission critical,” said Andrés Irlando, Verizon’s senior vice president and president of its public sector and Verizon Connect. “It’s time to get to work. We invite other industry leaders to join us. It’s simply the right thing to do for the dedicated public servants who risk their lives every day to save others—and for the millions of Americans they protect and serve.”

Verizon has argued that FirstNet has a “restrictive and proprietary approach” to interoperability, a criticism shared by some others that have called on policy-makers to require FirstNet to permit other carriers to interoperate with the FirstNet core.

“Without true interoperability, first responders responding to the same emergency using different service providers will only be able to communicate within their own user groups and unable to use one another’s public safety audio, video, and data services,” Verizon told the FCC last year (TR Daily, Sept. 30, 2019).

FirstNet and AT&T have argued that the type of interoperability sought by Verizon and others is not what Congress envisioned when lawmakers created FirstNet and that it could impair the security and resiliency of the nationwide network.

In his blog posting today, Mr. Parkinson said that “public safety expected us to aim squarely at solving the interoperability issue that had plagued effective public safety communications for decades by ensuring that we did not repeat the mistakes of the past—we could not create a patchwork of disparate and incompatible broadband networks, and we had to implement a network based upon open standards.”

“The first responder subscribers from these agencies enjoy full, seamless operability with one another and represent every public safety discipline and all levels of government in the 56 jurisdictions that we serve,” he added. “Because we based FirstNet on open international wireless standards as required by Congress, and created objectives requiring AT&T through our contractual agreement to meet those standards, the network is interoperable with other standards-based mobility networks. Our users can talk, text and exchange data with the users of commercial wireless networks across the globe.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

6 GHz Band Group Approves Leaders

Credit: Paul Kirby, TR Daily

A 6 gigahertz band multi-stakeholder group today approved leaders for the group as well as for sub-groups that will tackle three work streams, but it tabled action on approving the scope of work, leaders, and even the title for a fourth subgroup that will focus on contention-based protocol issues.

The four co-chairs of the overall group plan to meet before an Oct. 30 meeting of the overall group to outline a framework for dealing with the outstanding issues regarding the fourth subgroup. Those issues took up the bulk of a 90-meeting held virtually today.

A number of group members expressed opposition to even creating the fourth subgroup, saying that the planned topic of contention-based protocol issues seemed to be out of the scope of the multi-stakeholder group. A proposed title for the fourth subgroup dealing with contention-based protocol “requirements” drew opposition as well. Among those who expressed concerns about the fourth subgroup, which was proposed by the UWB Alliance, were representatives from NCTA, Comcast Corp., Qualcomm, Inc., and Broadcom, Inc.

Representatives of 6 GHz band incumbents were approved as leaders of the overall group and each subgroup. Incumbents have complained about the potential for interference from unlicensed devices as a result of the 6 GHz band order adopted by the FCC in April (TR Daily, April 23).

The four co-chairs of the overall group are Richard Bernhardt, national spectrum adviser for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association; Edgar Figueroa, chief executive officer of the Wi-Fi Alliance; Don Root, chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council’s Spectrum Management Committee; and Brett Kilbourne, vice president-policy and general counsel of the Utilities Technology Council.

Leaders of the subgroup focused on work stream 1 (the process for harmful interference, detection, reporting, and resolution) are Mark Poletti, director-wireless technology for CableLabs; Tim Godfrey, technical executive for the Electric Power Research Institute; Jason Matthews of the Lake County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office; and Guy Bail, director-AFC for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

Danielle Piñeres, VP and associate general counsel for NCTA, suggested the slate of leaders was “a little bit unbalanced” because it included two public safety representatives. She suggested that there should only be one.

But Jeff Cohen, chief counsel and director-government relations for APCO, said, “This is probably the most important work stream for public safety.” He added that there wouldn’t be “great harm or imbalance” in having two public safety representatives as leaders.

The leaders of the subgroup for work stream 2 (the updating of incumbent information) are Mark Gibson, director-business development and spectrum sharing policy for Comsearch, and Farokh Latif, director-AFC for APCO.

The leaders of the subgroup for work stream 3 (automated frequency coordination (AFC) development and implementation) are Praveen Srivastava, principal wireless engineer II for Charter Communications, Inc.; Andrew Clegg, spectrum engineer lead for Google LLC; and Klaus Bender, VP-engineering for UTC.

The proposed leaders for the work stream 4 subgroup are Tim Harrington, CEO of the UWB Alliance, and Bob Weller, VP-spectrum policy for the National Association of Broadcasters.

The multi-stakeholder group plans to meet next on Oct. 30 from 2-4 p.m. eastern time. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation

NPSTC Asks FCC to Dismiss CTIA’s 911 Recon Petition

Credit: TR Daily

NPSTC Asks FCC to Dismiss CTIA’s 911 Recon Petition

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council asked the FCC today to dismiss a petition for reconsideration filed recently by CTIA asking the agency to reconsider its z-axis, or vertical, rules and deployment deadlines. The trade group cited testing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of technologies to be ready to meet the FCC-mandated location-accuracy metric (TR Daily, Sept. 29).

In its filing in PS docket 07-114, NPSTC rejected CTIA’s justifications for its petition and argued that “the only thing that may prevent the implementation of vertical location technologies in the largest 25 cities by the April 2021 deadline is the intransigence of the carriers in preventing the deployment of the z-axis technologies that have already been demonstrated to be compliant.”

CTIA filed a petition for reconsideration of a sixth report and order on reconsideration adopted in July (TR Daily, July 16). The item requires nationwide wireless carriers to deploy z-axis location-accuracy technology nationwide by April 2025, giving non-nationwide carriers an additional year to meet the mandate. It also affirmed a fifth report and order adopted last year that set a z-axis metric of plus or minus three meters relative to the handset for 80% of indoor calls (TR Daily, Nov. 22, 2019). The item required nationwide carriers to meet April 3, 2021, and April 3, 2023, milestones for complying with the metric in the top 25 and top 50 markets, respectively.

“Given the importance of highly accurate vertical location capabilities to rapidly locate and assist individuals in distress, the Commission should immediately dismiss the petition for reconsideration that was filed by CTIA (‘Petition’) as both untimely and relying on arguments that were fully considered and rejected by the Commission. The Petition is untimely because it seeks reconsideration of the timeline that the Commission adopted in 2015 for the implementation of wireless vertical location. CTIA acknowledges that the deadline predates the Sixth Report and Order, requesting reconsideration of ‘the timelines affirmed in the Sixth R&O,’” NPSTC said.

“The Petition should also be dismissed because it relies extensively on arguments that were fully considered and rejected by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order. For example, the Petition argues at length regarding the relative merits and availability of barometric pressure sensor-based solutions, the use of ‘push’ versus ‘over the top’ approaches to place those solutions in handsets, the adequacy of the Stage Z testbed results, the ongoing development of operating system (‘OS’)-based technologies by Google and Apple, and their proposal to extend the deployment timeline by an additional five years, permitting 50% accuracy in 2021 and 80% accuracy no sooner than 2025. Each of these issues was thoroughly considered and addressed by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order and do not merit reconsideration just six month[s] before the first implementation deadline,” NPSTC added.

“CTIA claims that its Petition merits consideration because ‘the gravity of Z-axis testing challenges has only become known since the Sixth R&O was adopted’ and therefore qualifies as an event that ‘occurred or circumstances which have changed since the last opportunity to present such matters to the Commission.’ CTIA acknowledges, however, that this assertion is not true. Prior to the adoption of the Sixth Report and Order, the carriers made it very clear that the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting additional testing and those statements were quoted by the Commission in the Sixth Report and Order. … Thus, CTIA’s cancellation of the Stage Zb testbed was both anticipated and irrelevant given the fact that only one vendor had expressed interest in participating,” NPSTC said.

“Instead, the only thing that may prevent the implementation of vertical location technologies in the largest 25 cities by the April 2021 deadline is the intransigence of the carriers in preventing the deployment of the z-axis technologies that have already been demonstrated to be compliant,” NPSTC added. “Several of NPSTC’s members served on CTIA’s Location Accuracy Quarterly Advisory Committee and observed firsthand the efforts of CTIA and its members to impose obstacles in the path of z-axis deployment.

“First, the industry abandoned the National Emergency Address Database along with the promise for dispatchable location in a reasonable time and now they want to delay the z-axis deadline,” the filing said. “The Commission should not permit the carriers to use the pandemic as a pretext to further this agenda. Instead, the Commission should continue its leadership in the pursuant of wireless location accuracy by immediately dismissing CTIA’s petition as untimely and devoid of new arguments. The Commission should also direct the carriers to finalize their implementation of those z-axis technologies by the April 2021 deadline that have already been demonstrated to be 3 meter compliant. The critical needs of public safety and the public that it serves, necessitates this decisive action.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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Public Safety Bureau Chief Bemoans 911 Fee Diversions

States that divert 911 fees from funding public safety access points (PSAPs) to other purposes are standing in the way of call centers carrying out their duties and implementing next generation 911 (NG-911) services, Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said today during an online Federal Communications Bar Association event.

“One of the biggest obstacles is 911 fee diversions,” Ms. Fowlkes said. “Look at it this way, if a state is collecting monies from 911 fees and they divert even a portion of that to somewhere else, that’s less money or your PSAPs. Whether you’re talking about next generation 911, or whether you’re talking about just repairing equipment or supporting 911 call center dispatchers, there’s been less money to do those things.”

The FCC continues to look for ways to stop 911 fee diversion, Ms. Fowlkes said, noting the Commission last month launched a notice of inquiry (PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14) soliciting comment on how states and U.S. territories diverting 911 fees for other purposes has affected the provision of 911 services (TR Daily, Sept. 30).

Ms. Fowlkes also pointed out the FCC has for the past 10 years delivered annual reports to Congress detailing how much money states take in from 911 fees and how much of that money is actually used for funding 911 services.

When the FCC adopted the NOI, FCC Chairman Pai cited FCC data showing that between 2012 and 2018, states diverted more than $1.275 billion in fees to non-911 programs or to their general funds.

Also of particular interest of late for the bureau, she said, is the FCC’s efforts to try to improve coordination between power companies and communications companies during emergencies, Ms. Fowlkes said.

“We’ve certainly encouraged, particularly the wireless industry and the electric power companies to come up with ways to facilitate coordination before, during, and after incidents,” she said.

The bureau also continues to work on “ways to support more enhanced geotargeting” for wireless emergency alert (WEA), she said.

Among other things, the FCC has received “positive responses” to a letter Mr. Pai sent last month to CTIA, Qualcomm, Inc., and ATIS seeking updates about various issues related to implementing enhanced geotargeting (TR Daily, Oct. 2).

Qualcomm responded that all of its 5G chipsets currently being sold, and that will be sold in the future, will support enhanced geotargeting, and ATIS said it is making progress on developing enhanced geotargeting standards. CTIA committed to providing an annual report on how many phones in the market are capable of supporting enhanced geotargeting.

Ms. Fowlkes noted the geotargeting rules do not require wireless carriers to replace or upgrade phones to be geotargeting-capable.

“As you get more churn in terms of phones, it is hoped that there will be more phones out there” that support enhanced geotargeting requirements, she said. —Jeff Williams

FCC FederalNews PublicSafety

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DHS Threat Assessment Warns About Russia, China

A “Homeland Threat Assessment” released today by the Department of Homeland Security places Russia atop the cybersecurity and foreign influence threats faced by the U.S.

“Russia—which possesses some of the most sophisticated cyber capabilities in the world—can disrupt or damage U.S. critical infrastructure networks via cyber-attacks,” it said. “Russia probably can conduct cyber attacks that would result in at least localized effects over hours to days and probably is developing capabilities that would cause more debilitating effects.”

But in his personal message introducing the report, Chad Wolf, DHS’s acting secretary, emphasized the threat of Chinese cyber attacks and propaganda. The Trump administration has sought to portray China as a cyber threat equivalent to Russia—a viewpoint that has provoked debate among national security experts not affiliated with the administration who place China’s economic espionage in a different category from the Russian threat to critical infrastructure and U.S. elections.

A DHS whistleblower recently claimed he was demoted for objecting to the administration’s attempts to downplay the Russian threat to U.S. elections (TR Daily,Sept. 9).

“While Russia has been a persistent threat by attempting to harm our democratic and election systems, it is clear China and Iran also pose threats in this space,” Mr. Wolf said. “Nation-states like China, Russia, and Iran will try to use cyber capabilities or foreign influence to compromise or disrupt infrastructure related to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, aggravate social and racial tensions, undermine trust in U.S. authorities, and criticize our elected officials.”

The threat assessment issued today is the first for DHS and is designed to “provide the American people with an overview of the information collected and analyzed by DHS employees around the world,” it said. “This inaugural HTA presents a holistic look from across the department and provides the American people with the most complete, transparent, and candid look at the threats facing our homeland.” —Tom Leithauser, tom.leithauser@wolterskluwer.com

FCC’s 4.9 GHz Band Regime Modified Over Dem, Public Safety Objections

Credit: TR Daily

FCC’s 4.9 GHz Band Regime Modified Over Dem, Public Safety Objections

The FCC voted 3-2 today to modify its framework for the 4940-4990 megahertz band over the objections of Democratic Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel and public safety entities, which complained that the new regime would hinder the ability of first responders to use the frequencies. A dozen public safety groups had asked Mr. Pai to pull the item from today’s agenda (TR Daily, Sept. 21), and one of the groups said it would challenge the item adopted today.

“In the 18 years since the FCC designated the 4.9 GHz band for public safety use, only about 3.5% of all potential licensees have taken advantage of this spectrum opportunity, and this spectrum remains largely unused outside major metropolitan areas,” an FCC news release said on adoption of a report and order and further notice of proposed rulemaking in WP docket 07-100 at today’s monthly meeting. “The rules adopted today establish a new framework that will empower eligible states to put 4.9 GHz band spectrum to its highest and best use and to allow new partnerships with electric utilities, FirstNet, and commercial operators to increase usage of this spectrum, while protecting existing public safety operations. And by expanding use of the 4.9 GHz band, the rules will facilitate the development of a more robust equipment market for the band, addressing a problem that to date hampered efforts to deploy service in the band.”

The order “permits one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties — including commercial and public safety users — in those states that the FCC has not identified as a diverter of 911 fees. The Report and Order does not limit or modify the rights of any incumbent public safety licensees, so they will be able to continue to provide existing services. These new rules also eliminate the requirement that leased spectrum must be used to support public safety but would require lessees to adhere to the informal coordination requirements applicable to the band,” the news release added.

“The Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also adopted today proposes a new state-based licensing regime for public safety operations in the band, which would complement the new leasing regime,” the news release continued. “The Further Notice proposes to make permanent the current freeze on new applications and grandfather all current public safety licensees. It also proposes to allow states without a statewide license to obtain such a license and seeks comment on the creation of a voluntary state band manager to coordinate operations in the band. Lastly, it seeks comment on additional ways to implement and facilitate robust use of the band, including steps to address expanded access in states that divert 911 fees, the use of dynamic spectrum sharing, and ways to encourage collaboration across jurisdictions.”

In 2018, the Commission unanimously adopted a sixth further notice seeking views on ways to promote more intensive use of the 4.9 gigahertz band (TR Daily, March 22, 2018). Republican Commissioners then emphasized the potential benefit of repurposing the band for commercial purposes, or at least opening it up to additional usage, citing the fact that the spectrum had not been heavily used since the Commission made it available for public safety agencies in 2002.

In response to the 2018 item, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council expressed support for sharing the band with critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities and opposed reallocating and auctioning the spectrum for commercial use (TR Daily, July 9, 2018). A number of utility trade groups expressed support for a band plan submitted by NPSTC and emphasized their members’ need for additional spectrum.

In their dissenting statements today, Commissioners Starks and Rosenworcel complained that the FCC’s action would harm public safety agencies at a time when they are facing multiple challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, protests, wildfires, and hurricanes and tropical storms.

“At a time when our public safety organizations are stretched to the limit and their communications needs are increasing, the Commission is adopting with no notice and comment an approach that is not only unwanted but runs contrary to years of public safety spectrum policy,” Mr. Starks said. “Since this proceeding first began, the FCC has considered many different options to increase spectrum usage in the 4.9 GHz band while protecting critical public safety operations. It’s black letter law that agencies must provide adequate notice and an opportunity to comment before adopting a rule. But at no point have we ever proposed effectively delegating the Commission’s spectrum authority over the band to state governments. I therefore already had serious concerns about whether the draft order circulated three weeks ago satisfied the Administrative Procedures Act. If the original draft put us on the edge of a precipice, the current one drives us off the cliff. The final Report and Order now disqualifies states from participating in the State Lessor model if they engage in ‘911 fee diversion,’ a concept that another item on today’s agenda frames for debate [see separate story]. This proceeding has never sought comment on that issue or anything like it, and there is no way that commenting parties, and the governments, public safety organizations and citizens that will be adversely impacted, would have reasonably known to comment on the idea. This approach is facially deficient as a matter of administrative law.

“Beyond serious procedural flaws, this decision is likely to have serious policy consequences,” Mr. Starks added. “By pushing management of the 4.9 GHz band to the states, the majority risks creating dozens of inconsistent approaches to this valuable spectrum resource. States have vastly different interests and levels of spectrum expertise and will undoubtedly take different approaches to issues like interoperability, security, and interference protection. As a result, public safety usage of the 4.9 GHz band may actually become less efficient, secure, and reliable — even as commercial interest remains meager at best. I recognize that the 4.9 GHz band presents a difficult challenge. But I wish that we had withdrawn this item to work on fully addressing the public safety community’s concerns. This isn’t the moment to take chances with critical public safety spectrum.”

“This decision is unfortunate,” said Ms. Rosenworcel. “It is not the right way forward for the 4.9 GHz band. It is a slapdash effort to try to foster use of this spectrum by giving states the right to divert public safety communications in exchange for revenue. This approach has virtually no support in the record. However, it does have opposition from a wide range of stakeholders from wireless carriers to public safety officials.”

Ms. Rosenworcel noted that “relatively few” of the 90,000 public safety licensees that are eligible to obtain 4.9 GHz band licenses have done so. “That’s because there is a limited vendor ecosystem supporting this band, so it is hard to acquire equipment and costly to deploy it.  As a result, for the past few years the Federal Communications Commission has sought comment on how to help public safety make use of these airwaves and what more can be done to encourage a robust market for equipment,” she added.

“In this decision we abandon this course and decide that these airwaves no longer need to support public safety. We clear the way to kick first responders off this spectrum and then cede this agency’s authority over the band to state licensees who will be empowered to lease these airwaves to third parties to generate revenue. This adds up to a reduction in public safety communications with a more fragmented market for equipment and a 5G future with a whole bunch of the same problems we had with leases in the 2.5 GHz band that — remember — we went to great efforts to dismantle in the not-too-distant past,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. “What a mess. It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s a reason so many entities have come together to oppose this reorganization of the 4.9 GHz band.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his Republican colleagues defended the actions that he and his Republican colleagues took today.

For example, in response to a question during a call with reporters after the meeting, Mr. Pai said that “we are confident we provided adequate notice consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

In his written statement on the item, he said, “The Commission’s rules siloed this spectrum, which led to a limited amount of niche, expensive equipment available for use in the band. The story of the 4.9 GHz band became one of spectrum haves — primarily in large cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle — and have nots — namely, the 96.5% of potential licensees that have not obtained licenses for 4.9 GHz spectrum, particularly the smaller and rural jurisdictions that cannot afford to deploy in the band.

“Half a decade later, this unacceptable state of affairs persists,” he said. “The 4.9 GHz band remains valuable spectrum — and it remains underused and in regulatory limbo. To maximize the value of this public resource for the American people, today we revise our rules by empowering eligible states to put the 4.9 GHz band to its highest and best uses. We will harness the power of our Secondary Markets framework to create leasing opportunities for statewide entities in states that do not divert 911 fees for non-911 purposes.

“Under our new approach, we will allow a single state government entity to lease covered spectrum in this band while maintaining and protecting incumbent public safety licensees’ operations. We recognize the simple truth that what works for New York City may not make sense in rural West Virginia; therefore, we give lessors the right to choose what is best for citizens of their state: They can enter into leases with public safety and non-public safety entities alike. If an eligible state wants to lease its spectrum to FirstNet for use in its Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, it can do so. If it wants to lease the spectrum to a commercial entity to use for deploying a dedicated public safety broadband network, it can do that. If the state wants to lease spectrum in less densely populated areas to a wireless Internet service provider, an electric utility, or another critical infrastructure industry (or a mix of all three) and retain the spectrum in more densely populated areas, it can do that too.”

“The approach we adopt today may not be perfect. But it’s better than any of the alternatives that have been proposed,” Mr. Pai added. “And one thing we know for sure is that regulatory inertia is not the best option. The 4.9 GHz band is well-suited to meet the nation’s growing demand for mid-band spectrum, and this Commission will not stand idly by and let this spectrum continue to largely lie fallow. Leasing arrangements will create significant opportunities for commercial access while protecting incumbent public safety operations and generating substantial potential revenues that states can use to strengthen public safety services. Our flexible, forward-thinking framework represents the most viable path for making this public resource an actual resource for the public.”

“The underlying premise of the item before us is incredibly sound,” Commissioner Mike O’Rielly said. “The 4.9 GHz band is vastly underutilized — and not just by a little bit. Seeking to produce greater efficiency and increase the uses of 50 megahertz of spectrum, at a time when the premium for spectrum is at an all-time high, shouldn’t be controversial. And, this scarcity is precisely why the Commission must take action as soon as possible, not only on this band and the 3.1-3.55 GHz frequencies considered today [see separate story], but also on the 5.9 GHz band.

“While I certainly respect and support our public safety officials and truly appreciate all that they do to protect our communities, no Commission should let spectrum essentially lay fallow based on the notion that someday the allocation just might, possibly be widely used for its intended purposes,” he added. “The messages of ‘we intend to use it if certain conditions are met’ or ‘it’ll be needed someday’ are no longer credible or sufficient.”

“My first action when this item was circulated was to request a reversal of course and seek full commercialization of the band, while protecting existing incumbent systems,” Mr. O’Rielly continued. “That is consistent with my approach to the NPRM and is driven by the fact that every expert admits that the U.S. must free more spectrum to meet the demand for future commercial wireless services. While this spectrum may not be an ideal 5G band on its own, it has been identified by the wireless industry as a very good candidate for that purpose if the Commission takes certain actions. Sadly, my request didn’t win the day with my colleagues.

“Compelled to pivot, I have tried to live within the rather, let’s say, interesting approach taken in this item. I do have some concerns that this will just create another EBS [educational broadband service]-like mess, kicking the proverbial can and forcing a future Commission to revisit this whole structure,” the Commissioner said. “It is not entirely clear how or whether it will work at all, as proposed. There is also the distinct possibility that this item won’t necessarily solve anything, but instead may even prolong uncertainty. I am able to support the item, however, because, at the very least, it moves away from the status quo towards somewhat improved usage and commercialization of the band. Moreover, the modified version excludes states that are diverting 9-1-1 fees to other purposes from reaping any benefits from this spectrum largesse — such as New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and certain counties in Nevada.”

“In the end, we will just have to wait and see if any of the item’s structure gains traction or survives future policymakers’ second guessing. Having extensive experience on these matters, I’m a bit skeptical that will be the case,” Mr. O’Rielly said.

“For nearly two decades, the FCC has designated this 50 MHz swath of spectrum for public safety use. And yet after all this time, by our count, only about two percent of eligible public safety entities have become licensees. There are many causes for this underinvestment; availability and cost of equipment, scale, and an inefficient sharing regime are just a few,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said.

“The status quo isn’t working. So today we set out to fix these problems for the benefit of states and public safety officials alike,” he added. “We do so by empowering local leaders — not those of us sitting here in Washington — to determine the highest and best use of this spectrum based on those elected officials’ own assessments of local needs. They can keep using this spectrum for public safety (and do so more efficiently due to the new rules we put in place), or they can lease these airwaves and use the revenue to fund public safety or other mission critical initiatives. They have the choice, and I trust them to make the right call for their communities. … If there ever were a time for our agency to give public safety a hand, to get rid of some old rules, to open a path for funding, now would be that time. So we take that step today and empower our country’s local leaders to determine how best to use this spectrum.”

Mr. Carr was asked on a call with reporters after the meeting why he kept referring to local leaders when, in fact, states will make decisions about the spectrum. He said he refers to state and local leaders as one category, as opposed to federal leaders.

A dozen of public safety groups had asked Mr. Pai to pull the item from today’s meeting agenda. AT&T, Inc., which is the First Responder Network Authority’s network partner, also expressed opposition to the item, while Verizon Communications, Inc., said it opposed assigning the spectrum to FirstNet. T-Mobile US, Inc., said the FCC should seek comment on whether public safety licensees should be able to sell spectrum rights to non-public safety entities.

In a joint statement today, 11 public safety groups criticized the FCC’s action.

“The majority, consisting of Chairman Pai and Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr, took this action against the wishes of a multitude of national public safety associations,” they said. “Prior to today’s order, the FCC’s rules hamstrung public safety from making the best use of this important spectrum band. For years, public safety repeatedly offered specific proposals to the FCC to improve these rules so that law enforcement, fire, EMS, and 9-1-1 professionals could benefit from the multitude of broadband applications this band would make possible. Instead of granting these requested rule changes, the majority continued a false narrative that public safety is to blame for any underutilization and ignored public safety’s needs in an attempt to benefit commercial users. Further, the FCC took this action while failing to provide sufficient notice of its actions. With public safety professionals facing unprecedented national emergencies and natural disasters, the timing of the majority’s action is especially unfortunate and misguided.”

Signing onto the filing were the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Association of State EMS Officials, NPSTC, National Sheriffs’ Association, and Western Fire Chiefs Association.

In a separate statement, NPSTC said that it “is disappointed that the FCC did not follow the recommendations we made for 4.9 GHz. The NPSTC proposal would have resulted in a complete database of current and future use, implemented nationwide frequency coordination to prevent uncertainty due to interference, allowed for some dedicated uses like robotics, and opened use of the band to critical infrastructure organizations. This would have assured that the band would serve the needs of public safety well into the future. Under the FCC’s plan, there is no certainty that public safety needs will be met, based on the decisions made in each state. The plan promotes a profit motive at each state rather than assuring adequate public safety access to the band. The marketplace model simply does not work for public safety which is a government responsibility even if it operates at a net loss. We do strongly support the 911 fee diversion language and recognize the efforts of Commissioner [O’Rielly] to bring action on this issue. We look forward to providing comments to the further notice.”

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance, which has argued that the FCC should assign the 4.9 GHz band public safety spectrum to FirstNet, said that it would not give up.

“We are extremely disappointed by the FCC’s action that jeopardizes public safety’s access to spectrum critical to life-saving operations. Today’s action by the FCC shows clearly that commercial interests won out at public safety’s expense,” said Jeff Johnson, a PSSA leader who is chief executive officer of the WFCA and former vice chairman of FirstNet. “This spectrum was allocated by the FCC to public safety after 9/11 to be part of the interoperability solution for first responders. When will our government authorities put the interests and safety of public safety and the communities they serve ahead of commercial interests? The FCC itself has acknowledged, the 4.9 GHz band has been under-utilized because of the FCC’s complicated rules and the narrow use cases envisioned by the FCC in 2002. And yet today they take this action when the record does not support such an action as was pointed out by Commissioner Rosenworcel.”

“Our legal counsel is preparing a list of options for consideration,” added Chris Moore, another PSSA leader who is a former San Jose police chief and now a principal at Brooks Bawden Moore LLC. “Once we have reviewed these options, we will quickly move forward and take action to seek reversal of this clearly arbitrary and harmful decision. We would also like to publicly thank those commissioners that voted against this ill-conceived plan.”

“The nation’s fire chiefs are disappointed in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to license dedicated public safety spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band to the states” Kenneth Stuebing, first vice president of the IAFC, said in a separate statement. “This spectrum is used for critical fire and EMS operations across the nation. We urge the FCC to ensure that the states protect incumbent public safety users as it begins the process of granting these licenses. Also, we recommend that state fire chiefs organizations contact their state governors’ offices to protect this spectrum for public safety use.”

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive vice president-regulatory & state external affairs, said, “The 4.9 GHz band, while currently under-utilized, contains enormous potential to provide more expansive support of public safety communications. Informal coordination requirements have limited the spectrum band’s usage to date, and we appreciate the FCC’s efforts to consider ways to expand its use while ensuring the spectrum remains allocated to public safety. As the Commission moves forward, we will continue to support licensing rules that drive toward more efficient nationwide coordination and more effective use of this spectrum by public safety entities across the U.S.”

Louis Peraertz, VP-policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said that his group supports the 4.9 GHz band item.

“Opening the 4.9 GHz band to a much wider range of non-public safety uses is a very positive step forward,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Futures Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “It is extremely underutilized. At the same time, the unexpected conditions on state eligibility and the undeveloped nature of the process for sharing the band suggest that the Commission has far more work to do before there is a final resolution on how best to encourage more intensive and productive use of the band.”

“As our nation’s electric, gas, and water utilities modernize their infrastructure, access to spectrum is critical to ensure the continued safe, reliable and secure delivery of essential energy and water services,” said Sheryl Riggs, president and CEO of the Utilities Technology Council. “Utility communications systems underpin the reliable, resilient operation of essential electric, gas, and water services, and UTC looks forward to working with states to explore opportunities for utilities to access spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band.”

States did not weigh in on the item before its adoption. The National Governors Association said today that it had no comment. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC FederalNews PublicSafety WirelessDeployment SpectrumAllocation

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FCC NOI Focuses on Stopping 911 Fee Diversion

The FCC today launched a notice of inquiry in PS dockets 20-291 and 09-14 soliciting comment on how states and U.S. territories diverting 911 fees for other purposes has affected the provision of 911 services.

“In today’s notice of inquiry, we’re continuing to do our part to address the problem of 911 fee diversion,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the Commission’s monthly meeting, which was held virtually. “And if we can find a way to end this practice once and for all, we will improve our nation’s 911 system, keep America safe, and do the right thing by America’s first responders.”

Mr. Pai cited FCC data showing that between 2012 and 2018, states diverted more than $1.275 billion in fees to non-911 programs or to their general funds.

Mr. Pai called it “outrageous” and “unacceptable” for states to divert 911 funds.

Diverting 911 fees is “fraud,” Mr. Pai said, adding: “The government takes money from consumers with the promise it will be spent on improving our nation’s 911 system and spends it on something else. And this fraudulent practice has real-life consequences.”

The Commission is asking for comment on what regulatory steps it could take to deter the practice, such as “limiting the availability of FCC licenses and other benefits based on fee diversion or using the Commission’s truth-in-billing authority to increase consumer awareness of fee diversion where it occurs.”

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has for years called upon states to stop the practice, said he is “hopeful that today’s NOI will continue the positive momentum needed to finish the project and reduce the number of diverters to zero.”

Mr. O’Rielly was sharply critical of states for diverting 911 fees instead of otherwise cutting spending or raising other taxes to meet their funding needs.

“What is unconscionable, even shameful, is that certain states hide behind labels like ‘public safety’ to dupe consumers and shortchange 911 call centers,” he said.

Mr. O’Rielly said the “vast majority” of states have decided to end the practice, but New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Nevada “remain unapologetically” on the list of states that continue to divert 911 funds.

“While we have had some success shrinking the number of diverters, more work remains,” he said, adding: “Diverters are already statutorily barred from receiving federal NextGen911 grants, and I expect that Congress may need to provide even stronger statutory tools for the Commission to finally address the remaining diverters and prevent this horrendous practice in the future.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who credited Mr. O’Rielly for pressing the issue, said she was pleased to see the FCC adopt the NOI in hopes of eventually ending 911 fee diversions.

“It’s not acceptable when states allow a line item on communications bills that expressly says it is for 911 service but then turn around and send those fees elsewhere,” she said.

The NOI asks “appropriate questions about the boundaries of this agency’s authority and seeks ideas regarding the steps we can take to improve our annual fee diversion reports and put the pressure on to end this ugly practice altogether,” Ms. Rosenworcel said.

Commissioner Brendan Carr, who credited Mr. O’Rielly for conducting a “shame campaign” to highlight states that have diverted 911 funding, said he is “glad we’re pressing forward” with the NOI.

“It is truly a shame that some of those resources that are identified and needed [for 911 service] are being diverted,” Mr. Carr said.

In a press release, CTIA praised the FCC for adopting the NOI.

“State governments erode public trust and safety when they divert millions of dollars collected from wireless consumers intended to maintain and enhance our nation’s 911 system,” CTIA Vice President-regulatory affairs Matt Gerst said in a press release. “We look forward to working with the FCC to identify new ways to address the problem.”

NENA also commended the FCC for taking the action.

“Fee diversion continues to damage 911’s reputation and puts lives at risk,” NENA Director-government affairs Dan Henry said in a press release. “We appreciate the Commission’s willingness to tackle this challenging issue, and look forward to contributing our perspective to the proceeding.”—Jeff Williams

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NPSTC Criticizes CTIA’s 911 Location-Accuracy Petition

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council has criticized CTIA’s petition for reconsideration asking the FCC to reconsider its 911 z-axis, or vertical, rules and deployment timelines. The trade group made the request in a petition for reconsideration that cited testing delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of technologies to be ready to meet the FCC-mandated location-accuracy metric (TR Daily, Sept. 29). “NPSTC is disappointed that CTIA and the wireless carriers are again trying to delay implementation of the roadmap for location services initiated in 2014,” NPSTC Chair Ralph Haller said in a statement. “CTIA states in its petition for reconsideration that, ‘wireless providers are delivering increasingly accurate location information with wireless 9-1-1 calls.’ While that assertion is debatable, even if somewhat true, the carriers have had six years fully to meet the z axis requirements. The FCC should reject this CTIA petition for reconsideration, retain the April 3, 2021, deadline, and initiate enforcement actions for carriers not meeting the 2021 requirements. This is a life and death issue that has already taken too long to implement.”

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FirstNet Charts Course Through Road Map 

As it turns the page to a new fiscal year, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) today highlighted the progress made toward meeting the authority’s goals of improving public safety communications and the need to continue following the road map charting its future course.  

“In the upcoming fiscal year, in addition to ensuring that our program remains on schedule and on cost, the board will focus on the roadmap developed in close consultation with the public safety community,” FirstNet Chairman Robert Tipton (Tip) Osterthaler said during a virtual meeting of the FirstNet board and its committees. “We’ll also continue to listen to FirstNet users as their needs evolve, updating the roadmap accordingly.” 

FirstNet continues to play a key role for the first responder community, Mr. Osterthaler said.  

“In my view, it would be hard to overstate the importance of secure, mobile broadband access for law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, and all of those people and organizations that support and enable them,” he said. 

The board continues to work on updating the technology and applications available to FirstNet users, Mr. Osterthaler said. 

FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Ed Parkinson also credited FirstNet for working to “ensure that we don’t skip a beat” during the challenges posed by conducting business during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“This really echoes the sentiment that we will always be there for public safety and our people have been able to support the authority throughout these past six months,” he said. “We’re meeting public safety where they are to ensure that we continue to gather the invaluable feedback to advance our roadmap, which will further guide our programs, activities, and investments.” 

In addition to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FirstNet continues to adapt based on lessons learned from other public safety events, such as the recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and the wildfires in the western part of the U.S., he said. 

“Our culture at FirstNet is to listen, learn, and evolve,” Mr. Parkinson said. “We’re constantly striving to improve and to do things better. Ultimately, lives depend on our ability to get the job done.”  

Dave Buchanan, FirstNet’s executive director-public advocacy, noted the amount of outreach that has gone on between FirstNet and the public safety community, including engagements with about 12,000 public safety stakeholders.  

“We continue to keep up the drumbeat, even under the unusual circumstances of (fiscal year 2020) of making sure we’re reaching public safety across the country,” Mr. Buchanan said.  

Among other things, he said, FirstNet has increased its use of webinars in recent months, including 19 events in the past 12 weeks attended by 1,262 public safety professionals. 

All of the events have provided feedback FirstNet is using to create improvements for users, Mr. Buchanan said.  

FirstNet has also been collecting data to be used as FirstNet continues along its road map, including conducting surveys to solicit public safety feedback on various topics, holding one-on-one discussions, and convening focus groups, he said.  

Jeff Bratcher, FirstNet’s chief technology and operations officer, highlighted several areas of progress, including work on ensuring that public safety needs are included in global standards being developed through 3GPP. 

In particular, he noted the completion of 3GPP Release 15 dealing with push-to-talk communications, as well as vehicle-to-everything 5G technologies.  

In addition, work on Release 17 is in “full swing,” with a target completion date of December 2021, he said.  

FirstNet is focused on that release’s items related to enhancements to the “building blocks for mission critical services” using 5G, additional device-to-device standards, enhanced location-based services, and non-terrestrial network support, Mr. Bratcher said.  

In addition, he noted, there are now more than 200 products available for use on the FirstNet network, with 159 of those Band 14-capable, he said. 

FirstNet is delivering on the “broad, diverse range of devices” public safety interests have been asking for, Mr. Bratcher said.  

“I think we’ve exceeded this objective and goal,” he said. 

There are also now more than 100 applications available that can be used with the network, Mr. Bratcher said. 

During the meeting, the board adopted an amendment to its bylaws to allow the board chair to designate another board member to serve as the chair of the Governance and Personnel Committee. Before the change was made, the bylaws required that the board chair serve as the chair of that committee. —Jeff Williams

6 GHz Band, 5G Fund, Orbital Debris Items Teed up for April 23

Credit TR Daily

6 GHz Band, 5G Fund, Orbital Debris Items Teed Up for April 23

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that the FCC will consider six items at its April 23 meeting, including a draft item making 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 gigahertz band, a draft notice of proposed rulemaking proposing the establishment of a 5G Fund for Rural America, and a draft order updating the agency’s orbital debris rules.

Mr. Pai announced that Commissioners also will consider an order approving Viasat, Inc.’s request to deploy a non-geostationary satellite orbit fixed-satellite service (NGSO FSS) constellation, an NPRM proposing changes to the agency’s video description rules, and an order updating the Commission’s low-power FM technical regulations.

The FCC plans to release the text of the draft items and the tentative agenda for the meeting tomorrow.

A press release on the draft 6 GHz item stressed that it would enable unlicensed devices to share the 6 GHz band “with incumbent licensed services under rules that are crafted to protect those licensed services and to enable both unlicensed and licensed operations to thrive throughout the band.”

“From Wi-Fi routers to home appliances, Americans’ everyday use of devices that connect to the Internet over unlicensed spectrum has exploded,” Chairman Pai said in the press release.  “That trend will only continue.  Cisco projects that nearly 60% of global mobile data traffic will be off-loaded to Wi-Fi by 2022.  To accommodate that increase in Wi-Fi demand, the FCC is aiming to increase the supply of Wi-Fi spectrum with our boldest initiative yet: making the entire 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use.  By doing this, we would effectively increase the amount of spectrum available for Wi-Fi almost by a factor of five.  This would be a huge benefit to consumers and innovators across the nation.  It would be another step toward increasing the capacity of our country’s networks.  And it would help advance even further our leadership in next generation wireless technologies, including 5G.”

In a blog posting today, Mr. Pai said that he is proposing to free spectrum “for unlicensed use in four segments of the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz). This band is currently populated by, among others, microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul.” He added that “the rules we will vote on would play a major role in the growth of the Internet of Things, connecting appliances, machines, meters, wearables, and other consumer electronics, as well as industrial sensors for manufacturing. In addition to the Report and Order, we’ll consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to explore possibilities for very low power devices in this band.”

Under the draft order, the FCC “would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band,” Mr. Pai noted in the press release. “An automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.”

The FNPRM “proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices,” Mr. Pai added. “Specifically, the Further Notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.”

The item would reject a plea by parties that include CTIA and wireless carriers to defer a decision on the upper portion of the 6 GHz band and explore licensing the spectrum and moving those incumbents to the 7 GHz band.

The item would follow up on an NPRM unanimously adopted in 2018 proposing to free up as much as 1,200 MHz of spectrum for unlicensed use (TR Daily, Oct. 23, 2018).

Today’s announcement drew praise from advocates of unlicensed technology and caution from 6 GHz band incumbents, including fixed wireless interests that have argued that the framework envisioned by the new entrants would fail to protect their operations (see separate story). In particular, the two sides have battled over whether an AFC system was needed for each type of unlicensed device and what the technical limits should be.

Chairman Pai also plans to ask his colleagues to vote on a proposal for using multi-round reverse auctions to distribute up to $9 billion in two phases under the 5G Fund he announced late last year as a proposed replacement for the $4.5 billion Mobility Fund Phase II (MF-II), which would have been used to support 4G LTE deployment to unserved rural areas.

An FCC staff report released in December found that the 4G LTE coverage maps submitted by Verizon Communications, Inc., United States Cellular Corp., and T-Mobile US, Inc., as part of the effort to determine which areas should be eligible for support in the agency’s MF-II auction, overstated their coverage and thus were not accurate. The staff recommended that the Commission terminate the MF-II challenge process. On the same day the report was released, Chairman Pai proposed the 5G Fund to replace the MF-II fund (TR Daily, Dec. 4, 2019).

When he announced his plan, he said he would also propose that $1 billion be set aside to support 5G deployments that benefit precision agriculture.

In his blog post today, Chairman Pai said, “In the not-too-distant future, access to mobile broadband will mean access to 5G. 5G has the potential to bring many benefits to American consumers and businesses, including wireless networks that are more responsive, more secure, and up to 100 times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks. But we need to make sure that 5G narrows rather than widens the digital divide, and that rural Americans too benefit from the wireless innovation on our doorstep.”

He added, “Phase I of the 5G Fund would target at least $8 billion of support over ten years to rural areas of our country that would be unlikely to be covered by the commitments made by New T-Mobile as part of its acquisition of Sprint (including coverage of 90% of rural Americans with 5G service at 50 [megabits per second] or greater over the next six years) and that we anticipate would not see timely deployment of 5G service absent universal service support. To balance our policy goal of efficiently and quickly redirecting high-cost support to areas where it is most needed with our obligation to ensure that we have an accurate understanding of the extent of nationwide mobile wireless broadband deployment, we seek public input on two options for identifying areas that would be eligible for 5G Fund support.”

In a press release, the FCC said that those two options, which are for Phase I of 5G Fund support, are (1) an auction to be held in 2021 “by defining eligible areas based on current data sources that identify areas as particularly rural and thus in the greatest need of universal service support” and prioritizing “areas that have historically lacked 4G LTE or 3G service” and (2) a delay of the 5G Fund Phase I auction “until at least 2023, after collecting and processing improved mobile broadband coverage data through the Commission’s new Digital Opportunity Data Collection.”

Some observers, including members of Congress from both parties, have been critical or at least questioning of the idea of moving ahead with funding for unserved areas when the FCC’s data about which areas are unserved is not accurate.

Regarding the FCC’s orbital debris proceeding, Mr. Pai said that Commissioners would “vote on a Report and Order to comprehensively update the Commission’s existing rules regarding orbital debris mitigation, which were adopted in 2004. These new rules are designed to address the problem of orbital debris, while at the same time not creating undue regulatory obstacles to new satellite ventures. We would also seek comment on adopting a performance bond tied to successful spacecraft disposal.”

In 2018, the Commission adopted an NPRM in the proceeding (TR Daily, Nov. 15, 2018).

In comments filed on behalf of the Commerce Department, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asked the FCC to defer action “until completion of the agency actions mandated by the President’s Space Policy Directives” (TR Daily, April 8, 2019).

Commissioners also are slated to vote later this month “on an Order to approve ViaSat’s request for market access for a constellation of 20 satellites that will provide fixed-satellite service,” Mr. Pai said in his blog.

The Chairman also said he plans to seek a vote at the meeting on an NPRM to seek comment on a proposal to add 40 additional markets over four years to the 60 top television markets where certain commercial TV broadcasters are required to provide video-described programming to improve accessibility for blind or visually impaired consumers.  In a report to Congress last year mandated by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), the FCC’s Media Bureau noted that consumers would like the video-description requirement to be expanded beyond the top-60 designated market areas (DMAs) (TR Daily, Oct. 9, 2019).

Rounding out the agenda for the April 23 meeting, the FCC plans to consider a report and order updating its LPFM technical rules.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com; Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

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FCC’s Draft 6 GHz Band Item Draws Mixed Reviews

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s announcement today that the agency would consider a 6 gigahertz band order and further notice of proposed rulemaking at its April 23 meeting drew mixed reviews, with advocates of unlicensed technology praising the agency and incumbents urging caution.

Mr. Pai said that a draft order would make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band (see separate story).

Under the draft order, the FCC “would authorize two different types of unlicensed operations: standard-power in 850-megahertz of the band and indoor low-power operations over the full 1,200-megahertz available in the 6 GHz band,” Mr. Pai noted in a press release. “An automated frequency coordination system would prevent standard power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.”

The FNPRM “proposes to permit very low-power devices to operate across the 6 GHz band, to support high data rate applications including high-performance, wearable, augmented-reality and virtual-reality devices,” Mr. Pai added. “Specifically, the Further Notice would seek comment on making a contiguous 1,200-megahertz block of spectrum available for the development of new and innovative high-speed, short-range devices and on power levels and other technical and operational measures to avoid causing interference to incumbent services.”

Some 6 GHz band incumbents, including commercial, utility, and public safety operators, have argued that the FCC should require AFC to be used for all types of unlicensed devices – or at least for more types than the draft document proposes – and parties have clashed on the precise technical limits. Unlicensed advocates have argued that the use of an AFC system was not necessary for low-power and very low-power devices because they wouldn’t cause harmful interference to incumbent operations.

For his part, FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly welcomed the draft item.

“Today’s item effectively concludes some of the substantive debates and will end some extraneous noise surrounding our approach,” he said. “While I look forward to reading the specifics, it appears very consistent with my emphatic support for protecting incumbent users while permitting varied unlicensed services within the band. Specifically, higher-powered unlicensed services will be allowed in the band using a slimmed-down automated frequency coordination (AFC) regime, while low power indoor (LPI) use, which probably could use a closer review and improvements to its technical rules over the next couple weeks, will be allowed throughout the band without an AFC. Although it initially settles on certain lower power limits for LPI use, the further notice will explore increasing these limits, as well as setting workable power limits and more specifics to effectuate very lower powered (VLP) unlicensed devices.”

“Today’s action to permit all 1200 megahertz of the band to be used for unlicensed services means that proposals to license portions of the band were not accepted,” Mr. O’Rielly added. “I fully support this outcome, but I also remain fully committed to identifying other mid-bands for licensed services. Simply put, U.S. wireless providers must have more mid-band spectrum to meet consumer demand, and I will fight to refill the spectrum pipeline for future licensed wireless services. This effort is absolutely vital to preserving U.S. leadership in wireless technology and to alleviate the demands being placed on existing networks. I firmly believe that the most likely candidate bands for this purpose are Federal spectrum allocations, such as the 3.1 to 3.55 GHz band, that can be converted to commercial use. I look forward to discussing this draft with interested parties in the coming weeks, and I will go out on a limb to predict a unanimous vote from my colleagues.”

“We welcome the Commission’s effort to utilize the 6 GHz band to advance the next-generation of superfast Wi-Fi connectivity while protecting existing users,” NCTA said. “As we work from home, learn at a distance, use telemedicine services, stay informed, and play online, this spectrum band will be critical to delivering high-speed connections that nearly every consumer relies on. We look forward to working with the Chairman, Commissioners, and staff to advance this item which will enable our Wi-Fi networks to keep up with the significantly growing demand of our digital lives.”

The Wi-Fi Alliance said it “commends FCC Chairman Pai on the momentous decision to sustain America’s technological leadership, maximize public benefit of the 6 GHz spectrum resource, and unleash the power of ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity by moving ahead with the 6 GHz order.  Ensuring necessary unlicensed spectrum access is critical for Wi-Fi, which now more than ever, keeps us connected, supports our communications infrastructure, and delivers major economic benefits. Wi-Fi Alliance and its members are ready to deliver new 6 GHz use-cases and urge the Commission to support the Chairman’s proposal.”

WifiForward said, “We applaud Chairman Pai for a game-changing plan to unleash much-needed unlicensed spectrum that will support generational innovation while protecting existing users of the spectrum. From multi-gigabit Wi-Fi capabilities on our home networks to low-cost telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, from VR-based training for mining and other dangerous jobs to remote surgery, this spectrum supports the future of Wi-Fi and other innovations we cannot yet comprehend. WifiForward members have witnessed unprecedented growth in Wi-Fi usage over the last month; never has the need been more evident or pressing. We look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai and his colleagues on this issue and thank him for his unwavering leadership to address the unlicensed spectrum crunch and allow a diverse technological ecosystem to continue to flourish.”

“Today’s announcement by Chairman Pai is a win for America’s tech innovators and consumers. Unlicensed spectrum empowers the emerging technologies of today – AR/VR, drones, smart cities, artificial intelligence, telehealth – and those ideas yet to be imagined,” said Consumer Technology Association President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Shapiro. “The FCC’s announcement comes at an especially critical time, when many Americans are relying on Wi-Fi connections to work remotely and communicate with friends and family. Allowing more bandwidth for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi will help expand connectivity when we need it most. I thank FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his dedicated work on this important issue.”

“Intel commends the FCC for opening the 6 GHz spectrum band for unlicensed operation, which will significantly improve Wi-Fi for all Americans. We deeply appreciate the efforts of FCC staff who have worked tirelessly assessing the complexities associated with the 6 GHz band, and eagerly await the FCC addressing this important topic at its April 23rd meeting,” said Gregory Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of the Intel Corp.’s Client Computing Group.

Keerti Melkote, president of the Intelligent Edge for Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said, “The runaway success of Wi-Fi in the last couple decades represents the power of unlicensed spectrum, open standards and unfettered innovation. The FCC’s bold action to allocate the largest block of mid-band spectrum for unlicensed use builds on its success in creating the Wi-Fi industry and promises to usher in the next era of unconstrained American innovation for the global markets.”

“Broadcom believes that this is … the most substantive decision any Commission has made, or any Chairman has made, for unlicensed over the last, you know, almost 20 years. It’s a big deal,” said Jeff Szymanski, director-product marketing and government affairs for the Mobile Wireless Connectivity Division at Broadcom Inc. He added that products using the spectrum could be available this holiday season.

He told TR Daily that while he would prefer that the FCC address all three types of unlicensed devices in the order to be considered this month, he is pleased “as long as there’s a process in place for us to complete that last portion of this, the very low power portables, with the right rules.”

“Qualcomm fully supports the FCC’s plan to allocate the 6 GHz band for advanced unlicensed operations at its April 23rd meeting,” said Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, Inc. “We applaud FCC Chairman Pai and his fellow FCC Commissioners for this initiative, which will provide American consumers with better, faster broadband for so many uses, including telemedicine, remote learning and working, fully immersive augmented and virtual reality, & the Internet of Things.  In February, we demonstrated a full suite of Wi Fi 6E products ready to start using this large new swath of spectrum.  We are also optimizing other exciting new technologies for this large swath of spectrum, including the next version of 5G and next generation Wi-Fi.  Today’s announcement is another important step taken by the FCC to ensuring American leadership in the key 21st Century enabling technologies.”

Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard Cullen said, “Connect Americans Now commends Chairman Pai and the FCC for their continued dedication to maximizing spectrum resources for broadband use, including Wi-Fi. Expanding the availability of unlicensed spectrum in the 6 GHz band for high-bandwidth connectivity will make available the full potential of broadband and Wi-Fi as critical tools for all Americans.”

“Great to see @FCC & @AjitPaiFCC act to open up #6GHz band for unlicensed broadband use – a needed change that can help more Americans telework and learn remotely,” Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith tweeted.

“There has not been a significant release of unlicensed spectrum for two decades, and this new spectrum will provide the rocket fuel to truly enrich and realize the dreams of rural 5G, as well as other wireless innovation yet to be invented,” said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.

“We applaud FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and the Commissioners for today’s action to allow unlicensed use in the 6GHz band of spectrum. The FCC’s forward-thinking approach to enable more good use of spectrum will benefit the app economy, our members and the customers they serve, and communities everywhere,” said Morgan Reed, president of ACT, which represents app developers.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said, “Consumer advocates commend the FCC for its pathbreaking spectrum-sharing order. Opening the entire 6 GHz band for low-power, gigabit-fast Wi-Fi in every home, school, and enterprise will accelerate the availability and affordability of next-generation applications and services nationwide. Even the fastest fiber broadband internet service is useless for consumers without the Wi-Fi spectrum needed to connect all of our laptops, tablets, and smartphones.”

“We applaud the FCC and Chairman Pai for the decision to help bring the promise of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G to more Americans. Opening the whole 6 GHz band for unlicensed use both through fixed high-power outdoor use and low-power indoor use will bring faster Wi-Fi to both rural and urban communities struggling to connect, helping to close the widening digital divide that we find ourselves in,” said Public Knowledge Policy Council Bertram Lee.

“The current COVID-19 crisis underscores how important high-capacity Wi-Fi is for everyone. Anyone working from home uses Wi-Fi access points, and mobile carriers are opening their networks as well to help connect more people during this crisis. Now more than ever, faster Wi-Fi is a necessity for more Americans as we try to work, learn, and connect with one another from home. The FCC’s action marks a crucial step forward in making faster Wi-Fi a reality, which could soon help more Americans at a time where connection is essential,” Mr. Lee added.

Brad Gillen, EVP of CTIA, which with others wanted the FCC to consider licensing the top portion of the 6 GHz band, said, “We support the FCC’s efforts to make the lower half of the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use and will continue to work closely with the commission to ensure rigorous protections for licensed services already existing in the band. While the FCC has done a remarkable job freeing up critical licensed spectrum for 5G, the United States faces a growing mid-band deficit. It is essential that the FCC and the administration develop a roadmap to close this deficit before moving forward with plans to give away the full 1200 MHz in the 6 GHz band and further limit our few remaining options.”

Mark Racek, senior director-regulatory policy at Ericsson, said, “Mid-band spectrum is critical for the U.S. to lead in the development of a robust 5G ecosystem. Other countries are far ahead of the U.S. in identifying and assigning licensed mid-band spectrum. Licensed spectrum in the upper 6 GHz band is necessary to ensure U.S. 5G leadership by facilitating new wireless applications and services beneficial to consumers and businesses. At the same time, Ericsson recognizes the need for a mix of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum and, therefore, urges the FCC to move ahead with opening the lower 6 GHz range for unlicensed use if incumbent users can be assured of protection from interference, and we request the FCC to seek additional comment on licensed use of spectrum in the 6 GHz band.”

“Given its experience, the FCC has presented a plan that will allow wi-fi devices to operate alongside the current users of the spectrum band. This is great news as the FCC is doing what can be done to maximize spectrum given current restraints. Going forward, a plan to include more licensed spectrum must be developed and a continuing focus on mid-band spectrum is a must,” said the Innovation Economy Institute. “The combination of its actions now, and this continued focus on next steps for a mid-band and licensed plan is just what the country needs as the roll out of 5G continues enhancing the US global leadership role in broadband.”

But Sharla Artz, senior vice president-government and external affairs for the Utilities Technology Council, said, “We will be reviewing the draft order when it is available. We have and will continue to provide the FCC with technical detail demonstrating the very real interference potential from unlicensed use across all parts of the band and the need for thoroughly tested automated frequency coordination (AFC) to protect incumbent users. While we appreciate the FCC proposing to require AFC for the standard-power access points, these measures must also be applied to all unlicensed devices in the band to prevent interference to mission-critical utility communications systems.

“We are also concerned that the FCC is planning to allow low-power indoor unlicensed operations across the entire 1200 MHz of the band,” Ms. Artz added. “In addition, we are concerned that the draft would allow unlicensed devices to operate at power levels that would cause unacceptable levels of interference to vital utility communications systems. We have and will continue to engage with the FCC and interested stakeholders to develop technical requirements that adequately protect critical infrastructure incumbents and allow unlicensed operations to use in the band.”

“Public safety relies heavily on the 6 GHz band to support 9-1-1 PSAPs, land mobile radio, dispatch operations and other critical links,” noted Doug Aiken, vice chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council. “The FCC’s plan to open the band to unlicensed sharing has been very contentious, as evidenced by a multitude of filings.  We are especially concerned about unlicensed operations, even indoor, not required to have automatic frequency coordination (AFC). NPSTC therefore looks forward to reviewing the draft Report and Order to assess whether it includes sufficient protection for public safety 6 GHz operations.”

Don Evans, a counsel for the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition, said that “there are a lot of details that we won’t know until we see the draft Order. I am heartened that the Commission seems to be recognizing the need to protect licensed operations in what we assume are the fixed wireless bands (UNII-5 and 7), but uncontrolled indoor operations in this band will be problematic at the power levels which had been proposed by the RLAN [radio local area network] proponents.” He noted that the FWCC has advocated for AFC use for both indoor and outdoor devices.

Dennis Wharton, EVP-communications of the National Association of Broadcasters, said, “The last few weeks of lifeline coronavirus coverage by local TV stations have made crystal clear the value of the 6 GHz band to broadcasters and the viewers we serve. If broadcasters are to continue providing news coverage that is trusted in a crisis, we need spectrum to provide that service.

“We have previously witnessed the negative impact Wi-Fi operations have caused to spectrum broadcasters use to cover breaking news,” Mr. Wharton added. “Opening the entire 6 GHz band to unlicensed use without strong safeguards risks locking the FCC into a mistake it cannot correct. We look forward to engaging with the FCC to discuss potential solutions, including appropriate power levels, methods for restricting indoor-only operations, and other options to protect broadcaster uses.”

AT&T, Inc., declined to comment today, but the carrier has blasted as “deeply flawed” the argument that the use of AFC is not needed to deploy very low-power and low-power indoor devices. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment PublicSafety

 

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House Dems Propose Broadband Funds for COVID-19 Phase 4 Package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) today unveiled their infrastructure priorities for an anticipated Phase 4 coronavirus response legislative package, including $86 billion for broadband infrastructure and $12 billion for next-generation 911 (NG-911).

The infrastructure priorities outlined by the House Democratic leaders mirrors the $760 billion proposal for infrastructure investment that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Energy and Commerce Committee, and Ways and Means Committee unveiled in January (TR Daily, Jan. 29), with the addition of $10 billion “for the community health centers that are on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus,” according to a House Democratic fact sheet released today.

The fact sheet positions broadband support within the current public health crisis:  “Telemedicine, teleworking, tele-schooling and the increased use of social media and video conferencing by Americans connecting with loved ones during the epidemic have made access to high-speed broadband more critical than ever.”

The broadband support is intended for investment in “expanding broadband access to unserved and underserved rural, suburban, and urban communities across the country — connecting Americans, creating strong small businesses, more jobs and strengthening economies in communities that have been left behind.”

The NG-911 infrastructure funding is intended to protect “American lives by funding implementation of a Next Generation 9-1-1 system that will allow people to call or send texts, images or videos to 9-1-1 to help first responders and emergency personnel better assess the nature of an emergency and reach people in need.”

A Phase 3 proposal by House Democrats included nearly $4 billion in broadband and hot spot funding provisions, but the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that President Trump signed into law last Friday only contained $325 million in combined Rural Development and Connected Care pilot program funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FCC to distribute (TR Daily, March 27).

Yesterday on the “Guy Benson Show,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) opposed moving toward a fourth coronavirus legislative practice so soon.  “What I disagree with the speaker on is she’s already saying we need to work on phase four. Well look, the current law has not been in effect for even a week yet.  … I mean the implementation of this —- the Treasury Department’s got a massive, complicated problem here in getting all of this money out rapidly. And the speaker is already talking about phase four. Well, we may need a phase four, but we’re not even fully into phase three yet. This was the third coronavirus bill that we’ve passed, and the biggest one by far. And it was crafted by a Republican majority in the Senate, approved without a single dissenting vote,” he said, according to a press release from his office. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

FederalNews Congress BroadbandDeployment PublicSafety Covid19

 

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GWTCA Details Policy Agenda

During its annual meeting today, the Government Wireless Technology & Communications Association (GWTCA) outlined its slate of policy priorities, with many of them focused on trying to ensure the FCC’s efforts to free up additional spectrum for wireless services do not result in harmful interference to existing users.

GWTCA was established in 2016 to focus on advocacy of interest to “public service” and public transit government agencies.

The annual meeting, held as a conference call, was originally scheduled to occur in conjunction with the IWCE convention in Las Vegas. But that event was postponed and is now slated to take place August 24-28.

“It’s not the way any of us had intended to have the meeting,” GWTCA President Andy Maxymillian said during the call.

GWTCA counsel Alan Tilles, chairman of the telecommunications department at Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker P.A., pointed in particular to interference issues that have cropped up for land mobile radio (LMR) services using the T-band as a result of the repacking of broadcast channels in the 600 megahertz band.

LMR services in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and New York have experienced interference issues, he said.

GWTCA has been trying to work with TV stations, mainly low-power stations, that have been causing interference, with varying degrees of success, Mr. Tilles said.

“Some of the stations have been very cooperative in trying to work with us,” he said. “In other cases, it’s been downright ugly.”

In general, Mr. Tilles said, protecting T-band users has been difficult as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appears “bound and determined” to focus on freeing up spectrum for unlicensed uses and other services.

Some of those proposals could have a “horrific impact” on T-band users, Mr. Tilles argued.

Mr. Tilles noted that Congress did not include language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (HR 748), to rescind a statutory requirement that the FCC auction public safety spectrum in the T-band. That language was in the House version of the bill, but did not make it into the final legislation (TR Daily, March 26).

Under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, the FCC would have to auction public safety T-band spectrum by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023.

Other stand-alone bills to rescind the requirement have been introduced but not advanced.

Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), introduced The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (S 2748) in October with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Bob Casey (D., Pa.) (TR Daily, Oct. 31, 2019). A repeal provision was included in the 5G Spectrum Act of 2019 (S 2881), which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in December (TR Daily, Dec. 11, 2019).

The House communications and technology subcommittee approved a similar bill (HR 451), which was introduced in January by Reps. Elliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Al Green (D., Texas), and Peter King (R., N.Y.) (TR Daily, March 10).

Among other proceedings GWTCA is focusing on are the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the 5.9 gigahertz band.

Adopted over the objections of the U.S. Department of Transportation and some auto safety interests, the NPRM proposes to make the lower 45 MHz of the band available for unlicensed use and the upper 20 MHz for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology. The NPRM seeks comment on whether to allocate the remaining 10 MHz to C-V2X or dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology.

While the FCC has said the frequencies have gone largely unused, Mr. Tilles disputed the notion.

The public safety community “has been making an effort to show that is indeed, not lightly used,” he said.

The annual meeting also included the approval of all of the group’s board members to serve for another year.

Mr. Maxymillian and Mr. Tilles also detailed several formal and informal collaborations that GWTCA is participating in, including with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, the Land Mobile Communications Council, the National Association of Tower Erectors, the Radio Club of America, municipal leagues in several states, the TIA Smart Building Initiative, and the Capitol Technology University Education Program.

“I think that everybody realizes that, in this industry, we have a lot of good organizations with a lot of common interests,” Mr. Maxymillian said. —Jeff Williams

FCC FederalNews Congress SpectrumAllocation PublicSafety

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CBO: State Cyber Coordinator Bill Would Cost $37M

The Cybersecurity State Coordinator Act (S 3207), which would authorize the Department of Homeland Security to open cybersecurity field offices in each state, would cost $37 million over the 2020-2025 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“CBO expects that the department would need 56 new employees to serve as cybersecurity coordinators at an average compensation of $179,000,” CBO said.

S 3207 was introduced in January by Sen. Gary Peters (D., Mich.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sens. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Rob Portman (R., Ohio).  Under the bill, each state would have its own federally funded cybersecurity coordinator, who would be responsible for helping to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats by working with federal, state, and local governments and schools, hospitals, and other entities.  It cleared the committee last month (TR Daily, March 12).

CBO also scored the Cybersecurity Vulnerability Identification and Notification Act (S 3045), which would give DHS subpoena power to help it warn critical infrastructure operators about cyber vulnerabilities.  That bill, CBO said, could generate revenue because Internet service providers that don’t comply with subpoenas could face fines.  But CBO “expects that few ISPs would be fined for defying subpoenas,” it said.  “Thus, both revenues and direct spending would increase by insignificant amounts over the 2020-2030 period.”

The bill would require DHS to report to Congress annually on its use of its subpoena power, which CBO estimates would cost $500,000.

S 3045, which cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last month, is designed to help DHS in rare instances when it’s concerned that a private sector entity might be vulnerable to a cyber attack but it’s unable to identify the entity without help from the ISP. —Tom Leithauser, tom.leithauser@wolterskluwer.com

Cybersecurity Congress FederalNews

 

Senators Markey Renews Calls to Pass Legislation to Maintain First Responders’ Access to T-Band Spectrum

Boston (December 2, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) issued the following statement in response to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s call on Congress to repeal the mandate to auction T-Band spectrum. Senator Markey, along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), introduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, legislation that would preserve emergency personnel’s access to T-band spectrum (470–512 MHz).

“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the county and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” said Senator Markey. “I commend Chairman Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”

The Senators’ bill repeals a provision of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to auction off this band of spectrum by 2021. Police and fire fighters in highly-populated metropolitan areas in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere use critical T-Band spectrum for emergency public safety communication. Agencies across the country have invested millions of local, state, and federal dollars in the T-Band networks, which offer the reliable coverage and regional interoperability that first responders require for mission critical voice communications. Congressman Eliott Engel (NY-16) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

A recent study by the United States Government Accountability Office noted that the cost of relocating T-Band users to other bands of spectrum would cost between $5 and $6 billion, and for many T-Band users, alternative bands of spectrum are limited or “nonexistent.”

 

###

 

 

WTB and PSHSB SUSPEND THE PROCESSING OF APPLICATIONS TO RENEW PART 22 AND 90 LICENSES FOR SYSTEMS OPERATING ON 470-512 MHz (T-BAND) SPECTRUM

“By this Public Notice, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (Bureaus) announce that, until further notice, they will accept, but not grant, applications to renew Part 22 and Part 90 licenses for operation in the 470-512 MHz band (T-Band). Licensees that have filed, and will in the future file, timely and complete applications for renewal of license may continue to operate using their licensed facilities past the license expiration date while the suspension is in effect.”

https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-19-1225A1.pdf  

 

Pai Urges Congress to Repeal T-Band Auction Mandate

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today called on Congress to repeal its mandate that the agency reallocate and auction public safety T-band spectrum. In a related development, the Commission today suspended the processing of T-band renewal applications.

“In 2012, Congress passed legislation requiring the FCC to reallocate and auction T-Band spectrum used for decades by public safety licensees and fund the relocation of those licensees elsewhere.  The agency has extensively analyzed the T-Band and concluded that moving forward is not viable — relocation costs for public safety licensees would likely far exceed any potential auction revenue, making it impossible to fund the relocation and comply with the mandate.  The Government Accountability Office has agreed — reporting to Congress that the T-Band mandate is unworkable and could deprive first responders of their current ability to communicate by radio,” Mr. Pai said in a statement.

“Because of these concerns, I’m calling on Congress to repeal the T-Band mandate,” he added. “I’m hopeful that Congress can resolve this matter without delay.  Doing so will not only protect public safety communications in the T-Band but will also allow our dedicated auction staff to focus in 2020 on auctions that will make new airwaves available for 5G, like spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands.”

The requirement was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and public safety entities have been urging Congress since then to repeal the provision, arguing that the T-band spectrum in the 470-512 megahertz band is crucial to public safety agencies in the 11 cities where it is used.

Legislation has been reintroduced in the House and Senate to repeal the statutory mandate.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act was reintroduced in October by Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Bob Casey (D., Pa.) (TR Daily, Oct. 31). The bill was reintroduced in the House in January by Rep. Elliot Engel (D., N.Y.). Similar legislation failed to pass both chambers in the 115th Congress.

In a report released in June, GAO said that Congress should consider legislation that would rescind the T-band mandate (TR Daily, June 21). The report also said that the FCC is concerned about the impact to public safety of relocating systems.

GAO noted that the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has estimated that relocating public safety systems in the 11 cities where the T-band is used by public safety entities could cost more than $5.9 billion. NPSTC says that alternative spectrum is not available (TR Daily, March 15, 2013).

GAO said the FCC has calculated the costs of relocating public safety users from the T-band at $5 billion to $6 billion. The agency estimates it would cost $4 billion extra to relocate business-industrial users, GAO said, although Congress is not requiring those users to be compensated for moving to other spectrum.

Meanwhile, the Wireless Telecommunications and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus announced today that they are suspending the processing of applications to renew parts 22 and 90 licenses for systems that operate on the T-band.

“Licensees that have filed, and will in the future file, timely and complete applications for renewal of license may continue to operate using their licensed facilities past the license expiration date while the suspension is in effect,” the bureaus said in a public notice released in PS docket 13-42.

The public notice pointed out that in 2012, “to stabilize the spectral environment in light of the T-Band Mandate, the Bureaus suspended acceptance and processing of certain other T-Band applications [TR Daily, April 26, 2012]. That freeze was imposed to allow the Commission to consider issues surrounding future use of the T-Band and implement the Act. … Given that the February 22, 2021 statutory deadline is less than 15 months away, the Bureaus have determined that suspension of renewal processing is now necessary for the Commission to have the full range of implementation options available.”

Sen. Markey welcomed Mr. Pai’s statement today.

“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the [country] and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” the lawmaker said. “I commend Chairman Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”

Public safety groups also praised Mr. Pai’s support.

“Chairman Pai’s call for repeal of 6103 of P.L. 112-96 is to be applauded,” NPSTC said. “His statement is consistent with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and public safety calls for repeal of section 6103.”

“APCO has always supported repeal of the T-Band provision.  It’s the right thing for Congress to do,” said Derek Poarch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.

“Our members appreciate Chairman Pai’s support for the repeal of the T-Band auction requirement,” said International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Board Chairman Gary Ludwig. “The fire and emergency service relies on the T-Band for interoperable communications in many of our nation’s metropolitan areas. In cities like New York and Chicago, public safety does not have an alternative to the T-Band. Today, fire departments large and small have access to the spectrum they need to communicate with each other. If a T-Band auction moves forward, this will no longer be the case. On behalf of the IAFC, I urge Congress to pass legislation repealing the T-Band auction requirement this year.”

“We see this as a move in the right direction. We hope that … Congress is open to our pleas,” said Craig Allen, chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Communications & Technology Committee and a retired lieutenant colonel for the Illinois State Police. “It is unworkable to vacate the T-band space for public safety.”

Andy Seybold, a wireless industry consultant and public safety advocate, said he was surprised to see Mr. Pai weigh in. “Previously it appears as if the FCC said that they could do nothing unless Congress passed a bill to repeal the give back,” he noted.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, November 14, 2019

T-Band, FirstNet Updates, Laptops and Tablets

First and vitally important to eleven major cities and their metro areas, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have introduced bills cancelling the T-band (470-512) giveback. House bill H.R. 451 is one of the simplest bills ever introduced in the House and it is almost exactly the same as the bill that languished in the House last year. This bill that was sponsored by Representative Eliot, a democrat from New York, now has nineteen sponsors. Three are Republicans and sixteen are Democrats who are primarily from areas that will suffer badly unless the requirement to return the T-band to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for auction is overturned. The original bill is presently under the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The Senate bill, S. 2748, contains the exact wording as the House bill. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Markey, a democrat from Massachusetts. The bill currently has a total of four co-sponsors including Senators from NY, MA, and PA, all Democrats. After it was introduced in early October and submitted to the Committee on Science and Technology where it currently resides.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which provides cost estimates for most bills, has not yet weighed in on this bill, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that is in line with the reports from National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) concerning the cost of relocating first responders in the eleven metro areas that currently have access to portions of the T-band. That is if there was any spectrum available for relocating these agencies. Based on FCC data, there is none. There is a bill in both houses of Congress, as there was last Congressional session, and NPSTC and the GAO have both stated that moving first responders off the T-band would be a very costly and, in reality, impossible task.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and first-responder agencies in areas where the T-band is in use have been working with Congressional staffers and their bosses to make sure they understand the seriousness of the consequences if these bills do not pass in both houses and are not signed into law.

Read the Entire Column Here

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