Parties Weigh in on FCC’s NPRM Concerning PLMR Spectrum

November 23, 2016–A myriad of parties have weighed in on a notice of proposed rulemaking released by the FCC in August that the agency emphasized would expand access to private land mobile radio (PLMR) frequencies (TRDaily, Aug. 18). In particular, a number of entities say they support giving 800 megahertz band incumbents six months to apply for newly available spectrum before the frequencies are made available to others.

In the item adopted in WP docket 16-261 and Rulemakings 11719 and 11722, the FCC noted that in adopting the NPRM, it was granting “in part petitions for rulemaking submitted by the Land Mobile Communications Council proposing to amend our Rules to allow 806-824/851-869 MHz (800 MHz) band incumbent licensees in a market a six-month period in which to apply for Expansion Band and Guard Band frequencies before the frequencies are made available to applicants for new systems; and to amend Section 90.159 of our Rules to extend conditional licensing authority to applicants for site-based licenses in the 800 MHz and 896-901/935-940 MHz (900 MHz) bands.

“In addition, on our own motion but suggested by recent waiver requests, we propose to amend Section 90.35 of our Rules to make available for PLMR use frequencies that are on the band edge between the Industrial/Business (I/B) Pool and either General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) or Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum, to make certain frequencies that are designated for central station alarm operations available for other PLMR uses, and to make certain updates and corrections; and to amend Sections 90.219(d)(3) and 90.261(f) of our Rules to accommodate certain railroad operations.”

In its comments, the LMCC said it “supports many of the Commission’s proposals, but urges it to revisit certain areas where further improvements are warranted.”

“As requested in the LMCC EB/GB Petition, the LMCC again urges the Commission to adopt a six-month window for all 800 MHz incumbents, whether B/ILT, Public Safety or SMR, to file for EB or GB channels,” it said. “It disagrees with the FCC’s conclusion that incumbent SMR systems should not have an expansion window because existing and new SMR licensees compete for wireless customers. All businesses compete for customers in their respective marketplaces.”

The LMCC also urged the FCC to expand conditional licensing authority to the 470-512, 800 and 900 MHz for classes of eligible entities. Those should include SMR operators in the 800 MHz band and public safety entities in the 700 MHz band, it said.

“The LMCC appreciates the thorough and thoughtful analysis in the NPRM as to the potential impact of including certain channels in the I/B Pool,” it also said. “However, the LMCC believes that these issues are best addressed in the frequency coordination process. In some areas, it might be preferable to have two 6 kHz channels rather than one 8 kHz channel. For other purposes in other areas, the reverse might be true depending on the operational requirements of potential users.”

The Enterprise Wireless Alliance expressed support for the LMCC petition. “EWA believes the LMCC EB/GB Petition also implicitly sought a lifting of the now two decades old freeze on 800 MHz inter-category sharing in the EB/GB during this period. To the extent that was unstated, it has been clarified in LMCC Comments in this proceeding and the Alliance supports that position fully,” it said. “EWA further recommends that inter-category sharing between B/ILT and SMR licensees in the interleaved bands (809/854-815/860 MHz) be permitted during this period as well. The 800 MHz rebanding proceeding has shuffled the original pool designations beyond all recognition. Any system that needed to be rebanded was moved to spectrum vacated by Sprint. Since Sprint was never eligible to acquire public safety pool spectrum for inclusion in its iDEN network, all of its spectrum was either B/ILT, SMR, or General Category.”

“Because this spectrum is an optimal home for PLMR systems that need exclusive channels, EWA recommends that B/ILT and commercial incumbents in the 470-512 MHz (‘T-Band’) and 900 MHz bands also be allowed to migrate to 800 MHz channels during this period,” EWA said.

The Utilities Technology Council said it “supports the Commission’s proposals to add frequency pairs 451/456.00625 MHz and 451/456.0125 MHz, as well as to add frequency pairs 462/467.5375 MHz and 462/467.7375 MHz. In addition, UTC supports the Commission’s proposal to permit conditional authority in the bands above 470 MHz. Moreover, UTC supports the Commission’s proposal to provide a window of time for incumbent 800 MHz licensees in the market to acquire or expand coverage and improve their quality of service on Expansion Band (EB) B/ILT Pool channels before accepting applications from new entrants. UTC suggests that the window should be six months, and that early access to channels should be expanded to apply to the Guard Band (GB) as well as the Expansion Band, consistent with the EB/GB Petition of the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC).”

In joint comments, the National Association of Manufacturers and MRFAC asked the FCC to “adopt LMCC’s proposal for a limited, six-month priority for all incumbent 800 MHz licensees to access newly-released 800 MHz EB and GB spectrum, along with NAM/MRFAC’s proposed definition of ‘market.’”

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said it “supports the original LMCC proposal to extend conditional licensing to the 470-512 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands and also supports extending conditional licensing to the public safety 700 MHz narrowband general use channels. Such conditional licensing should be subject to applicable frequency coordination and regional planning committee concurrence where required.

“NPSTC also supports establishing an advance 6 month filing window for incumbent public safety and B/ILT licensees to apply for 800 MHz Expansion Band and Guard Band channels, prior to the channels being made available for new licensees and SMR incumbents,” it added. “NPSTC also supports the Commission’s proposals to make available new limited bandwidth UHF channels located between the BAS and PLMR and between the GMRS and PLMR bands. NPSTC notes that some of the areas listed in the NPRM where certain UHF channels are reserved for central station alarm operations but are unused or lightly used according to the Commission’s analysis coincide with some T-Band areas. NPSTC takes no position on the continued need for all of these channels for alarm operations going forward. However, NPSTC recommends the Commission obtain additional information from alarm industry representatives concerning their spectrum needs going forward and consider prioritizing channels not needed, if any, for potential T-Band re-accommodation.”

NPSTC also said it “supports the proposed rule changes to allow fixed Class A signal boosters to be located trackside and operated at up to 30 Watts of ERP on specific railroad UHF railroad channels. This rule change should help enable safer train operations.” “The Commission proposes to expand conditional authority to 800 MHz and 900 MHz I/B and Public Safety Pool frequencies but, in light of the Spectrum Act and current T-Band freeze, does not propose to extend conditional licensing to T-Band frequencies. APCO supports expanding conditional authority to these frequencies, as well as the 700 MHz public safety narrowband frequencies,” said the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. “As APCO has previously noted, conditional licensing authority for public safety channels will expedite the application process and allow for more rapid deployment of critical radio communications facilities. With regard to the T-Band, conditional licensing should be permitted for applications that do not seek to modify the licensee’s original footprint. Doing so would provide these public safety licensees with the benefits of conditional licensing, and it would be consistent with the T-Band freeze’s objective to ‘foster a stable spectral landscape.’”

APCO also says that applicants should have to get regional planning committee concurrence for proposed facilities in the 800 MHz NPSPAC band and in the 700 MHz band. And it “supports an incumbent priority window for EB/GB channels for public safety licensees and believes six months is a reasonable length of time, considering the longer procurement process for public safety licensees and the fact that their first priority is providing public safety services, not planning and deploying networks. A shorter window such as three months would not afford public safety enough time to secure buy-in from stakeholders and the necessary funding. Additionally, to further assist public safety licensees and expedite the application process, the Commission should lift the inter-category sharing waiver requirement during the six month incumbent priority window.”

The National Regional Planning Council said it “fully supports the expansion of conditional authorization to public safety spectrum above 470 MHz, including the T-Band from 470 MHz to 512 MHz, subject to the requirements of rule 90.159. Any applications submitted to the Commission for public safety spectrum must be processed through one of the Commission authorized frequency coordination organizations, and any application for 700 MHz narrowband spectrum or NPSPAC spectrum must include appropriate Regional Planning Committee approvals before conditional authorization operations may begin.”

The state of Florida said it “supports the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) tentative conclusion to amend sections 90.159 and 1.931 to expand conditional authority to 800 MHz Public Safety Pool frequencies 10 days after the application is submitted to the FCC. This would provide public safety agencies the opportunity to meet their communications needs prior to receiving radio station authority; but, after the applications succeeds through the frequency coordination process.”

“Applicants should be required to obtain Regional Planning Committee (RPC) concurrence prior to conditional licensing of 800 MHz NPSPAC and applicable 700 MHz Public Safety frequencies,” the state also said.

The state said it disagreed with Mobile Relay Associates LLC’s (MRA) “proposal to discontinue operations under conditional licensing if the application remains pending for more than 180 days for reasons beyond the control of the applicant. Applications pending for more than 180 days for actions beyond the control of the applicant should be cause for extending the expiration date of the conditional license. Conditionally authorized applicants should only be expected to discontinue operations upon notification from the FCC or expiration of the conditional license, not upon filing of petitions or informal objections pending final action by the FCC.”

In its comments, MRA said, “The Commission should allocate each of 451/456.0000 MHz, 451/456.00625 MHz, 451/456.01250 MHz, 462/467.53750 MHz, 462/467.73750 MHz, 454/459.009375 MHz, 454/459.990625 MHz and 454/459.996875 MHz for IB licensing under Section 90.35 of the Rules. There has not been any instance of harmful interference to adjacent channel licensees under any of the waiver licensee operations on 451/456.00625 MHz, 451/456.01250 MHz, 462/467.53750 MHz, 462/467.73750 MHz or 454/459.009375 MHz.”

“The Commission should remove the central alarm station allocation for channels in the 460 MHz and 465 MHz bands, and open these frequencies up to IB licensing. The 40-year-old allocation of this spectrum to central alarm station usage has been rendered obsolete by changes in technology,” MRA added. “The highest and best use of this spectrum is for industrial/business licensing. Temporary or conditional licenses, in particular those which exist pursuant to Section 90.159 of the Rules, must be secondary to incumbent licensee operations during the pendency of the new entrant’s application, and must be limited to six months’ duration.”

“Finally, the Commission should implement the LMCC proposal for a short, six-month window within which incumbent 800 MHz licensees within a given region can apply for EB/GB spectrum after the 800 MHz rebanding freeze is lifted within that region,” MRA added. “This exclusive six-month window should cover all the unfrozen spectrum, and any incumbent 800 MHz licensee should be able to apply for any unfrozen spectrum for which it is eligible during this six-month window, without regard to how its incumbent 800 MHz license is classified.”

The Association of American Railroads said “the Commission should adopt its proposal to permit railroads to use Class A signal boosters with up to 30 watts ERP on frequencies 452/457.90625 to 452/457.9625 MHz on a permanent basis. Codifying this proposal will increase rail safety by allowing railroads to deploy signal boosters that enable communication between the front and rear end of trains in areas where rugged geography would otherwise hinder communications. The Commission should also permit railroads to operate Class A signal boosters using the outermost frequencies (452/457.9000 MHz and 452/457.96875 MHz) in this band.

“In addition, the Commission should extend conditional use licensing to the 800 and 900 MHz bands. Conditional licensing will allow users, including railroads, to commence operations to meet critical and immediate communications needs, while still being subject to frequency coordination,” AAR added. “Finally, the Commission should provide a six-month window for incumbent 800 MHz Private Land Mobile Radio (‘PLMR’) licensees to obtain new licenses for Expansion Band (‘EB’) or Guard Band (‘GB’) channels before accepting applications from new entrants, but in a manner that allows Business/Industrial Land Transportation (‘B/ILT’) licensees full access to the available channels as proposed by the Land Mobile Communications Council (‘LMCC’).”

Motorola Solutions, Inc., said “the Commission should amend the Part 90 rules to extend conditional licensing authority to frequency bands above 470 MHz. Such authority will ensure regulatory parity in the PLMR licensing process, minimize regulatory burdens and delays, and enable spectrum to be deployed more quickly. In addition, before authorizing new 4 KHz operations over frequencies between PLMR and GMRS spectrum, the Commission should ensure that incumbent GMRS users are appropriately protected from harmful interference.”

M2M Spectrum Networks LLC said the FCC “should not adopt incumbent preferences for the 800 MHz spectrum. While a set-aside may sometimes be warranted to reserve spectrum for competitive companies or new entrants, it is strongly disfavored when in the opposite direction – i.e., to reserve spectrum for incumbents. Such set-asides are inherently bad for competition. The Commission should resist the proposal made by the Land Mobile Communications Council (‘LMCC’), which would amend the Commission’s rules to allow certain 800 MHz band incumbent licensees in a market a six-month exclusive window in which to apply for 800 MHZ Expansion Band (860-861/815-816 MHz) (‘EB’) and Guard Band (861-862/816-817 MHz) (‘GB’) (collectively ‘EB/GB’) frequency licenses before the frequencies are made available to applicants for new systems.

“The only justification offered for such a preference is that the incumbents may be able to put the channels to use faster. But since many incumbents appear to rely on inefficient, technically antiquated systems, there is no such guarantee of fast or full use in the hands of the same entities responsible for the spectrum’s current low levels of use and antiquated technologies,” M2M added. “For the Specialized Mobile Radio (‘SMR’) EB, the Commission is therefore correct in tentatively concluding that no preference should be applied as incumbents and non-incumbents often compete against each other. The same reasoning applies with equal force not only for the General Pool GB frequencies, but also for the Industrial/Business (‘I/B’) Pool portion of the EB frequencies.”

Several companies that rely on M2M spectrum for medical and other applications submitted comments also urging the FCC to reject preferences for incumbents.

The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and its Alarm Industry Communications Committee said “there is no justification for removing the central station restriction from any of the Group D Low Power Pool channels, as the alarm industry is making significant use of these frequencies and there are numerous alternatives available to non-central station users under other parts of the Low Power Pool. Moreover, industry and regulatory developments are creating the need for more dedicated central station spectrum in the immediate future, and any removal of the central station restriction is premature.”

But the CSAA added that if the FCC decides to “remove the data restrictions on the primary channels,” it “will concur in the assignment of 4 of 6 urbanized central station primary frequencies for non-central station operations in areas where there is no alarm use, as part of the frequency coordination process; and CSAA will concur in the grant of waiver requests on a secondary basis to use the same four urbanized primary channels for non-central station operations, in markets in which there are alarm operations. The nationwide primary channels should remain under the central station restriction.”

The National Association of Broadcasters asked the FCC not to adopt the proposal to make available for PLMR uses spectrum on the band edge between I/B pool and BAS frequencies, saying that “BAS spectrum is already severely constrained in many markets and at many news events. The proposal to expand I/B spectrum at 450 MHz would compound the reduction in BAS spectrum that will already occur as a result of the incentive auction.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily