APCO, EWA Seek Review of Higher Ground Order

February 17, 2017–The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International and the Enterprise Wireless Alliance submitted applications for review today of an order and authorization granted to Higher Ground LLC last month. The order by the International and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus and Office of Engineering and Technology authorizes Higher Ground to deploy up to 50,000 mobile satellite earth stations in the 5925-6425 megahertz band.

Last week, the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition asked the FCC to stay the order and authorization granted to Higher Ground pending agency action on its application for review (TRDaily Feb. 10). In its application for review in IBFS file No. SES-LIC-20150616-00357, APCO said it “was unaware of this proceeding until the Order, which did not include the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, was released on delegated authority. Significant harm to public safety communications could result from this grant.

“As a general matter, APCO agrees with many of the concerns raised by commenters but dismissed by the Order, including the use of a waiver rather than a rulemaking of general applicability, proceeding on delegated authority, potential harmful interference to incumbent operations, the use of a proprietary untested self-coordination method, and the large number of devices that Higher Ground is permitted to license in the 6 GHz band,” the filing added. “Likewise, APCO agrees with the arguments raised in the Application for Review and Motion for Stay filed by the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition (FWCC). APCO is particularly concerned about potential interference to the thousands of public safety microwave licensees currently operating in the 6 GHz band and fundamentally opposes the use of an unproven frequency coordination method in a public safety band.”

APCO added that the FCC “should, at a minimum, reverse the Bureaus’ Order. Additionally, rather than accepting Higher Ground’s assertions outright, and because Higher Ground’s proposed operations are completely incompatible with the currently permitted uses in this band, the Commission should conduct a formal rulemaking to amend the rules governing operations in the 6 GHz band. The Commission should require that Higher Ground conduct a live pilot in collaboration with public safety entities to assess the effectiveness of the proposed coordination system to protect licensed operations. Though Higher Ground states that it has explained and demonstrated its coordination process, a written explanation and a demonstration are not equivalent to a pilot or a trial of the coordination method.

“The Bureaus acknowledge that Higher Ground’s coordination process is both ‘unconventional and proprietary.’ This language, and the lack of the coordination method’s proven effectiveness, give APCO pause as to whether this method will adequately protect existing public safety licensees from harmful interference,” the group said. “Ultimately, Higher Ground’s self-coordination method is untested and unproven, and, for public safety, this uncertainty is unacceptable.”

APCO added that its “concerns are not allayed by the Bureaus’ statement that the low power transmissions and self-coordination method proposed by Higher Ground will minimize the risk of harmful interference. This has not been verified or demonstrated to be effective in a live setting. Moreover, once these devices have been deployed, there is a risk that competitive or business pressures will lead Higher Ground to seek additional authorization for increased power levels, thus increasing the risk of harmful interference.

“Regardless of the power level of the devices, the Order generally does not provide much in the way of assurances that harmful interference will not occur,” APCO argued. “The Order states that the steps Higher Ground will take and the conditions placed on the grant of the application ‘should prevent or minimize the risk of harmful interference.’ This is not the same as ensuring that Higher Ground’s proposed low power level and self-coordination method will prevent harmful interference. Again, public safety is not the appropriate arena to deploy new, untested spectrum-sharing and frequency coordination methods.

“Further, APCO is not convinced by the Bureaus’ assertion that Higher Ground’s service will be rolled out in a ‘controlled manner.’ Higher Ground is permitted to deploy 5,000 new terminals each quarter during the first year and then may deploy up to a total of 50,000 terminals. APCO disagrees with the premise that the implementation of 20,000 devices in a year qualifies as a controlled rollout,” it said. “And, once this service is deployed, if harmful interference does occur, it will be impossible to recall or control all of Higher Ground’s devices.”

In its application for review, EWA argued “that the action taken by the Bureaus conflicts with established Commission policy.  The Alliance urges the FCC to set aside the grant of the waiver, return Higher Ground’s application to pending status, and initiate a rulemaking proceeding in which the many concerns about the interference potential of the proposed system can be evaluated in greater detail and weighed against its prospective benefits to the public.”

EWA added that “the utilization of a satellite allocation sought by Higher Ground could impact the operations of systems on which public safety, utilities, pipelines, railroads, and numerous other 6 GHz FS licensees rely for critical communications.  The Bureaus believe that the protections imposed in the Order are adequate to protect against interference, but many incumbents clearly have a different view.  As stated by the Fixed Wireless Communications Coalition in its Application for Review, ‘With more information and a suitable setting for negotiations, the FS and Higher Ground might have collaborated on changes that could have resolved our concerns while still meeting Higher Ground’s business needs.’

“FS incumbents, many of which are EWA members, have invested substantially in the 6 GHz band.  Many were required to relocate to this spectrum when other, lower microwave bands were reallocated for consumer-based services.  Because of well-tested, reliable frequency coordination processes, they operate in the essentially interference-free environment needed for their types of critical systems.  The Bureaus may be correct in their assessment that the interference avoidance techniques incorporated by Higher Ground in its ‘unconventional and proprietary’ automated coordination process will work as promised (and as well as current coordination requirements) and, in conjunction with the low power of the SatPaqs, will present no meaningful potential for interference to co-channel or adjacent channel FS systems,” EWA said. “But it is precisely because of the unconventional and propriety nature of that process that the conclusion should be tested in a rulemaking proceeding.

“Higher Ground’s proposed deployment of up to 50,000 mobile terrestrial units in a heavily encumbered band may be a ‘specific, unique application’ on satellite spectrum, but any failure of its interference avoidance techniques has the potential to disrupt the operations of many thousands of incumbent FS systems,” EWA added. “As pointed out by numerous parties in this proceeding, after-the-fact remediation will not be adequate should interference occur, even if that interference were traceable to Higher Ground’s operations, which it may not be.  A waiver of the FCC rules with that scope of potential impact, a proposal that relies on unconventional and proprietary techniques to avoid interference and has elicited objections and concerned comments from all segments of the FS licensee community, should be considered in a rulemaking, not approved pursuant to delegated authority in an application-based adjudicative process.  The outcome should be a Commission decision that all parties can accept as an appropriate balancing of the rights of FS incumbents and the public benefit of introducing another broadband consumer service.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily