FCC Eliminates 700 MHz Band Narrowbanding Deadline

On October 27, 2014, the FCC late this afternoon released a report and order that eliminates a Dec. 31, 2016, deadline for public safety licensees to convert their 700 megahertz band narrowband spectrum to 6.25 kilohertz technology.  The order in PS dockets13-87 and 06-229 and WT docket 96-86 also reallocates the 700 MHz band reserve channels to general use with priority access going to relocated T-band licensees, and it  designates secondary trunking channels for air-to-ground (ATG) communications.

Among other things, the item also addresses several issues related to Project 25 public safety voice systems, declines to establish a nationwide interoperability travel channel, permits on a secondary basis voice operations on data interoperability channels, and declines to increase the 2 watt ERP (effective radiated power) for radios that operate on the mobile-only low-power channels.

“We conclude that the December 31, 2016 narrowbanding implementation deadline is no longer viable,” the FCC said in the order. “The record indicates that requiring narrowbanding by December 2016 would force many licensees to modify or replace existing systems well before the end of their useful life. In addition, we share the concerns expressed by many commenting parties about the maturity of 6.25 kilohertz-capable equipment, including the lack of developed open standards governing major system components.

“We further conclude that rather than extending the deadline to a subsequent date, the better course is to eliminate the narrowbanding requirement altogether,” the FCC said. “We agree with NPSTC [National Public Safety Telecommunications Council] and NRPC [National Regional Planning Council] that spectrum requirements in the 700 MHz band may vary significantly from region to region, and that assessing these requirements is best left to the Regional Planning Committees (RPCs) that have been tasked with developing regionally specific plans for use of the band. Imposing a national narrowbanding deadline – even with an extended timeline – would limit the flexibility of the RPCs to develop spectrum plans that are optimized to regional needs and could a create risk of stranded investment.”

However, the FCC added, Our decision not to require further narrowbanding does not preclude voluntary migration to 6.25 kilohertz technology. To the contrary, we recognize that some licensees have already narrowbanded, and we encourage RPCs in areas where channel capacity is at a premium to investigate the benefits of 6.25 kilohertz efficiency. At the same time, eliminating the narrowbanding requirement also allows RPCs to consider other options for optimizing use of the spectrum, including the possibility of future broadband use. Although no RPC has proposed such use at this point, the incentives to develop broadband applications in this band could change over time, particularly as FirstNet builds out the nationwide public safety broadband network in the adjacent spectrum band, and as LTE progresses towards development of mission-critical voice capability. We encourage the RPCs to monitor the development of trends in broadband technology that could support proposals for flexible use of the 700 MHz narrowband spectrum, and we encourage RPCs to submit such proposals for our consideration.”

A broad array of public safety entities had urged the FCC to eliminate, or at least to extend, the 2016 deadline (TRDaily, June 19, 2013). The community had stressed that a rapid decision from the Commission was necessary.

“The immediate problem is that, absent a rapid Commission decision, many public safety agencies will be forced to begin the extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming process of replacing their existing equipment in an attempt to meet the current deadline,” the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International said in an ex parte filing in August, when the order released today as circulated to Commissioners (TRDaily, Aug. 18). “That would be a terrible waste of public resources, as most radios currently used in the band are relatively new and still have many years of useful life before reaching normal equipment replacement cycles.”

Regarding its decision to make newly reallocated general use channels available on a priority basis to T-band licensees, the FCC said, “We provide T-Band incumbents priority access to the Reserve Channels on the condition that relocating T-Band incumbents (1) commit to returning to the Commission an equal amount of T-Band spectrum and (2) obtain RPC concurrence. For example, a relocating T-Band incumbent seeking sixteen Reserve Channels must commit to return sixteen or more T-Band channels. Reserve Channels in the Affected T-Band Markets will remain unavailable until issuance of a Public Notice opening a filing window for acceptance of applications from T-Band incumbents. T-Band incumbents will enjoy priority access to the 700 MHz Reserve Channels for a five year period starting from the date of a Public Notice announcing the availability of the Reserve Channels, after which we may revisit extending the five year priority access period. We delegate to the Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau the authority to issue such a Public Notice.”

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires the FCC to reallocate and auction public safety spectrum in the T-band by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023. Proceeds from the auction can be used to cover the relocation costs of public safety licensees. But the law doesn’t say anything about relocating non-public safety licensees. Public safety licensees operate in the T-band in 11 metro areas.- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily