Parties Support Waiver to Permit 800 MHz Band System

Parties have filed comments that generally support a waiver request filed by the Arizona Public Service Company (APSC), an electric utility, to allow it to deploy a new 800 megahertz band Project 25 system.

APSC has filed 54 applications for 800 MHz channels at 53 locations for a statewide trunked radio system, which it said will improve coverage over its current network. “The requested operations are in National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) regions along the border with Mexico. These areas currently are subject to a freeze on 800 MHz non-rebanding applications, in order to preserve vacant channels for licensees retuning their systems according to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s updated band plan for licensees operating along the border with Mexico,” the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau noted in a public notice released in June seeking comments on APSC’s waiver request. “APSC states that it selected frequencies that will neither cause interference to incumbent licensees nor disrupt the rebanding process. Consequently, it requests a waiver of the licensing freeze.”

The public notice observed “that many of the applications request frequencies in the 800 MHz Expansion Band. Expansion Band frequencies do not become available for licensing until the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (the Bureaus) announce that the required level of clearing has been achieved in that NPSPAC region. Moreover, the Bureaus recently concluded that Expansion Band frequencies should not be made available for licensing even in NPSPAC regions where rebanding is complete, because doing so would prejudice the pending rulemaking proceeding regarding a proposal to afford filing priority to 800 MHz incumbent licensees.”

In comments filed in WT docket 17-168, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council said, “Each application must be judged on its merits and on input from applicable frequency coordinators. However, from a policy perspective, NPSTC believes that APSC serves as an example of the very type of applicant that NPSTC had in mind in supporting an advance filing window for incumbent licensees. The Public Notice indicates that APSC is Arizona’s largest electric service company, serving more than 1.2 million customers. The Public Notice also states that ‘Two-way radio is essential to its safe and efficient operations, particularly during outages and other emergencies.’ It is clear that applicants like APSC have an operational need for land mobile channels as opposed to a speculative need simply to win licenses and profit directly from offering spectrum without any underlying operational requirements that address safety or operational efficiency. It is that distinction that underscores NPSTC’s support of a 6 month advance filing window for public safety and B/ILT licensees.”

NPSTC added, “Whether or not a grant of the APSC waiver would cause interference to incumbent licensees, disrupt the rebanding process or impact other legitimate applicants for 800 MHz channels are issues that requires input from frequency coordinators. From a policy perspective, NPSTC recommends the FCC pursue all deliberate speed in bringing the rulemaking referenced above to a decision that provides legitimate incumbent public safety and B/ILT licensees like APSC a 6 month advance filing window ahead of new applicants. If the Commission could come to a decision in that rulemaking and issue a Report and Order by the end of 2017 that provides for the advance filing window as NPSTC recommended, it could certainly benefit multiple licensees of the type that APSC represents. In fact, if that timeline and decision could be achieved, it may even obviate the need for waivers of the rules that become increasingly necessary as rulemaking decisions incur added delay.”

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International was more cautious about the waiver request. “Due to the complexities involved with the rebanding process, and the need to ensure that public safety licensees are afforded full opportunity to maintain consistent operations to carry out their missions, APCO is wary of providing the extraordinary relief that APSC seeks,” it said. “APCO’s second concern stems from the additional need to provide APSC access to Expansion Band (EB) channels while a rulemaking remains pending regarding a proposal to afford filing priority to 800 MHz incumbent licensees. Certain public safety licensees are eligible for EB channels, and thus would rightfully benefit from the priority under consideration. Accordingly, and as a matter of efficient spectrum management more generally, the Bureau should proceed with particular care when considering a waiver request specific to one entity that may disrupt a rulemaking with much greater applicability.”

The Enterprise Wireless Alliance urged the FCC to grant the waiver. “The factors that have delayed completion of 800 MHz rebanding in the Mexican Border Regions may have been unavoidable, since the process is significantly dependent on the actions of another country and its licensees, neither of which are within the FCC’s control. Similarly, however, the obsolescence of the APSC system during this extended period was not within its control,” EWA said. “Application of the licensing freeze would be unduly burdensome and contrary to the public interest under these unique circumstances. While APSC has described three scenarios for deployment of its new system, the only reasonable, practical approach is the one for which waiver relief is sought. Moreover, the purpose of the licensing freeze is to create a stable spectrum environment and ensure that adequate replacement channels are available to permit the reconfiguration of all systems in an area. This purpose seemingly will not be disturbed by grant of a waiver, as the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (‘TA’) has provided APSC with a letter stating that, ‘the TA concurs with the issuance of this authorization and does not foresee any impact on 800 MHz Band Reconfiguration resulting from grant of the application.’”

EWA said it “also supports a waiver to allow APSC to license B/ILT EB channels. In the Alliance’s opinion, the Company’s situation is unique, and there is no realistic alternative to its spectrum requirements. As it has committed to returning currently licensed channels for assignment to other entities once its new, more efficient system has been fully deployed and its capacity requirements satisfied, there should be minimal impact on the amount of I/B spectrum available for future users. In fact, it is precisely because of entities like APSC that EWA has strongly supported time-limited incumbent priority access to EB channels. The Commission itself has proposed incumbent priority access to B/ILT EB channels. The Alliance has recommended broader incumbent relief, but certainly agrees that B/ILT entities should be awarded priority access to all EB spectrum.”

“Without weighing in on the merits of this particular waiver request, TIA urges the Commission to act quickly to lift the licensing freeze on the 800 MHz Expansion Band,” said the Telecommunications Industry Association. “As the Commission knows, this proceeding has been mired in bureaucratic process for over a decade. This waiver request, along with similar requests, demonstrate that the Expansion Bands are necessary for investment and innovation in public service communications, and that the rebanding necessary to end this freeze is long overdue for completion. TIA members, Land Mobile Radio users, and Commission staff are all significantly burdened when regulation can only take place through a piecemeal waiver process.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily