NPSTC September 2013 Regulatory Update

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Articles provided by Bette Rinehart, NPSTC Editorial Task Group Chair

U.S. and Canada Reach Spectrum Sharing Agreements:  The U.S. and Canada have reached agreement on three interim sharing arrangements along the U.S.-Canada border.

Arrangement U – Specialized Mobile Radio Services – 896-901 and 935-940 MHz. This band is used for both private internal business/industrial communications and SMR operations. The new Arrangement governing sharing and coordination within 100 km of the border simplified the criteria for permitting secondary users in the band.  Arrangement U’s operational provisions will be applied on an interim basis pending further legal review.

Air-to-Ground Services – Statement of Intent for the Frequency Bands 454.6625-454.9875 MHz and 459.6625-459.9875 MHz. This Statement of Intent makes possible the creation of a nationwide digital system for coordination and sharing of spectrum to be used for general aviation air-to-ground services.

Arrangement V – Fixed Services – 71-76, 81-86, and 94.1-95 GHz. This arrangement will allow fixed services within the border area and facilitate deployment of broadband internet access, high-speed wireless LANs, and backhaul for mobile broadband networks

The text of the News Release is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-322923A1.docx

State of Montana Waiver Grants:  The State of Montana, Department of Transportation, had sought a waiver of the eligibility and operating requirements in the Maritime radio service (Part 80) in order to expand its Interoperability Montana System (IM System).  While the state was maximizing use of VHF Part 90 public safety radio service frequencies, it needed additional VHF spectrum due to unexpectedly high levels of traffic on its currently constructed sites.  The state chose VHF spectrum as the best and most cost-effective solution to cover its large but sparsely populated geographic area.

A separate application was filed by Jefferson County, Montana, seeking to license a UHF business/industrial frequency at a second site in addition to the maritime frequencies.  Jefferson County had been licensed for the UHF frequency for over 20 years and argued that adding a second transmitter site on this frequency would have minimal impact on the availability of UHF industrial/business spectrum in the State. The Commission agreed.

The waiver request was filed for consideration under Section 337 of the Communications Act which provides a mechanism for public safety applicants to license unused spectrum if no public safety pool frequencies are available.  Montana asked that if the Commission felt that it did not comply with the requirements of a Section 337 waiver, that its request be reviewed under the general waiver guidelines of Part 1.

Because there are other public safety pool frequencies available, the waiver request does not comply with the Section 337 requirements.  However, the Commission determined that the state had provided sufficient justification to be granted a waiver under Part 1.

The core purpose of the Part 80 Maritime rules is to serve the communications needs of maritime vessels, particularly with respect to communications in support of the safety of life and property at sea and on inland waterways.  In the late 1990’s the Part 80 rules were modified to allow sharing of Maritime frequencies by non-maritime eligibles upon successful application for waiver.  Certain factors are examined to determine the feasibility of any requested waiver including distance from a navigable inland waterway, the applicant’s certification that it will give priority to maritime communications. The Commission reviewed Montana’s filing to ensure that a grant of its request would not undermine this core purpose.  The text of the Order is available at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1735A1.doc

Comment Sought on Mobile Relay Associates Waiver Request to Allow Use of Channels on the Band Edge Between Part 90 and Part 95 Spectrum:  The FCC is seeking comment on waiver requests filed by Mobile Relay Associates (MRA) to operate on two UHF frequency pairs at multiple locations in Los Angeles, Miami, Denver, and Las Vegas.  The requested frequencies are among the four UHF frequencies in the band edges between Part 90 Industrial/Business pool and Part 95 General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) and are not designated for use by any Commission service.

In its waiver requests, MRA states that frequency congestion is widespread and increasing in the four metropolitan areas in which it seeks the waivers.  MRA also argues that because it wishes to operate at 4 kHz bandwidth, it will not cause harmful interference since it won’t overlap any frequencies on either side and Part 90 licensees have implemented narrowbanding.  The FCC notes that compliance with the narrowband deadline includes operating at 25 kHz bandwidth if 12.5 kHz equivalent efficiency is met.

Comment is sought on the waiver requests, particularly from licensees whose operations could be impacted; commenters should address whether the public interest would be served and if the waiver request could be granted in part. Comments are due September 30; Reply Comments are due October 15.  The text of the Public Notice is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1838A1.docx

Narrowbanding News

FCC Denies Ascend Performance Materials’ Request to Waive Narrowband Deadline Indefinitely: Ascend Performance Materials LLC had requested a permanent waiver of the narrowband deadline because its 12 Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) cannot reasonably be modified to comply with the data efficiency standard of 19.2 kbps without taking over a year and costing over $400,000.  Ascend argued that since its operations were low power and confined to in-building, it would be unlikely to interfere with other users.

The FCC found Ascend’s arguments unpersuasive – narrowbanding is intended to increase spectrum opportunities for future users.  Arguing that a grant of its waiver request would not impact current users is irrelevant.  The FCC stated that other licensees operating AGV systems had managed to comply with the narrowband deadline or had requested a time-limited waiver to do so.However, the FCC extended Ascend’s previously granted narrowband deadline waiver until June 30, 2014.  If additional time is needed, Ascend must request an extension prior to that date.  The text of the Order is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1836A1.docx

800 MHz News

Rebanding Timetable for Mexican Border:  The FCC has announced the timetable for band reconfiguration in the Mexican border.  Band reconfiguration began on August 23 and will be completed on February 23, 2016. These are the key dates:

August 23, 2013

  • Requests for Planning Funding (RFPF) due
  • Change Notices for licensees that already have a Planning Funding Agreement (PFA) in place and need to amend it to complete planning due
  • Start of planning period for licensees without a PFA

November 20, 2013

  • Expansion Band elections due
  • Guard Band elections due
  • Cost estimates for licensees without a PFA and with 5,000 or fewer subscribers due

December 2, 2013

  • Cost estimates for licensees without a PFA and with 5,001 to 10,000 subscribers due

December 10, 2013

  • Cost estimates for licensees without a PFA and with more than 10,000 subscribers due
  • Licensees with a PFA have between 90-110 days from Transition Administrator (TA) approval of the PFA or PFA Amendment to submit cost estimates depending upon the number of subscriber units

February 23, 2016

  • Completion of implementation by licensees
  • End of 30-month transition period

The Public Notice reminded impacted licensees to:

  • Retain only qualified and competent reconfiguration vendors.  Vendor failure will not excuse untimely completion of rebanding.
  • Remember the FCC guidance on Change Notices – they are appropriate only in the case of an emergency or when faced with an unforeseeable change in schedule, scope or cost during implementation.   Costs incurred in excess of those approved in a Frequency Reconfiguration   Agreement (FRA) are at the licensee’s risk until a Change Notice is submitted and approved.
  • Cooperate with the TA and respond to requests for information.
  • Attend an Implementation Planning Session (IPS) if offered.
  • Monitor their replacement frequencies prior to infrastructure retuning to ensure that the incumbents have cleared those      frequencies.  The TA and FCC will notify licensees when their replacement frequencies have been reported as cleared and ready for use.
  • Include any monitoring expenses in the cost estimate.
  • Retain support documentation and records for 24 months after the close of a PFA
  • Retain support documentation and records for 18 months after the close of a FRA.
  • Read the information on record retention requirements on the TA’s website at www.800ta.org/content/resources/ACR_Fact_Sheet.pdf

An application freeze is in effect until February 23, 2016.  The freeze impacts new applications and applications to expand existing licenses in the following NPSPAC Regions: Region 3 (Arizona), Region 5 (Southern California), Region 29 (New Mexico), Region 50 (Texas-El Paso), and Region 54 (Texas-San Antonio).  Applications at sites within 70 miles of the borders of these NPSPAC regions are also impacted.

Applications for license renewal, assignments of authorization, or administrative updates are not impacted by the freeze. Licensees operating on pre-rebanding frequencies who wish to expand or add frequencies to their systems may request an STA to operate.  Licensees operating on post-rebanding frequencies who wish to expand or add frequencies to their systems may request a waiver of the application freeze.   STA requests and waiver request of the application freeze must include a concurrence letter from the TA.  Such concurrence letters can be requested by emailing a draft of the application to AppReview@800TA.org  The text of the Public Notice is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1770A1.docx

Comment Sought on Imposition of Digital Emission Mask Requirements on NPSPAC Frequencies: In response to a Petition filed by Harris Corporation, the FCC has initiated a rulemaking seeking comment on a proposal to require digital equipment (including but not limited to TETRA) operating in the 800 MHz NPSPAC band to comply with Emission Mask H.  The NPRM also proposed to require equipment to have analog FM capability when operating on 800 MHz, VHF and UHF public safety mutual aid and interoperability frequencies.

In 2012, the FCC amended its rules to permit the deployment of TETRA technologies in certain private land mobile radio (PLMR) bands.  TETRA technologies were specifically prohibited in the 800 MHz NPSPAC band due to concerns about the potential for harmful interference because the technology operates at 22 kHz bandwidth and the NPSPAC band, while having frequency bandwidths of 25 kHz, is channelized at 12.5 kHz, meaning that geographic separation of adjacent channel operations is required.

One TETRA manufacturer, PowerTrunk, claimed that its product – “low power” TETRA – could be deployed in the NPSPAC band because it operated at less than 22 kHz bandwidth, was equipped with low-pass audio filters and complied with Emission Mask B.

Harris challenged PowerTrunk’s assertions and feared that unless the equipment met the more stringent Emission Mask H requirements, it would cause harmful interference.  Harris also noted that PowerTrunk’s equipment did not support interoperable communications because it could not operate in analog FM mode.  The company asked the FCC to initiate a rulemaking proceeding to address its concerns.

The FCC is seeking comment on whether to require that:

  • All digital equipment operating in the NPSPAC band conform to Emission Mask H rather than Emission Mask B and
  • All digital equipment operating in VHF, UHF, and 800 MHz include an analog FM mode.

Comments are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register; Reply Comments are due 60 days after Federal Register publication. The text of the NPRM is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-13-117A1.doc

FCC Imposes A Freeze on Certain NPSPAC Applications:  In conjunction with the NPRM detailed in the previous article proposing to require all digital equipment deployed in the NPSPAC band to comply with Emission Mask H and include an analog FM mode, the FCC has imposed an application freeze starting August 27, 2013 and continuing indefinitely.

The application freeze applies to license applications for digital equipment in the 800 MHz NPSPAC band that do not comply with Emission Mask H and/or include an analog FM mode.  Applications for equipment certification for digital equipment proposing to operate in the NPSPAC band will not be accepted unless the equipment includes an analog FM mode and complies with Emission Mask H.  The text of the Public Notice is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1803A1.doc

700 MHz News

Region 17 (Kentucky) 700 MHz Plan Approved:  The FCC has approved the Region 17 (Kentucky) 700 MHz Regional Plan. The text of the Order is available at: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-13-1845A1.doc