Public Safety Spectrum, Technological Change Discussed

LAS VEGAS — A session at the APCO 2018 show here yesterday afternoon on FCC developments related to public safety evolved into a discussion of public safety spectrum and technological developments that may enable commercial operators to share frequencies with agencies.

During the discussion, Jeff Cohen, APCO’s chief counsel and director-government relations, said that until relatively recently, public safety and commercial spectrum were separate and were treated differently given public safety’s role in protecting Americans. Now, there is more interest in reallocating public safety frequencies for commercial use or in enabling sharing, he noted.

Public safety spectrum has been targeted for sharing or reallocation in the 4.9 gigahertz and 6 GHz bands and in the T-band (470-512 megahertz).

“Public safety is special,” said David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. But he added that “spectrum policy … needs to allow technology to drive change.”

Spectrum that once was not seen as useful is now being eyed for use thanks to technological developments, “and I think public safety can benefit from that,” Mr. Furth said.

“I think we need to be careful about siloing public safety spectrum policy too much,” he added. “At the same time, we need to make sure that if we’re going to rely on … commercial spectrum users to support public safety, that it be done in a way that serves public safety interests.”

In the 4.9 GHz band, where the FCC is mulling whether to allow commercial operators to share the spectrum or to reallocate the channels to operators. But Mr. Furth said that similar issues will arise “more broadly. Everybody that uses spectrum, I think, has an obligation to use it efficiently. It is a scarce resource.”

An audience member, David Buchanan, a public safety veteran who has worked on spectrum management issues with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, asked, “What are the limits?”

“At some point, physics has got to drive this whole thing. You can’t just keep cramming people in,” said Mr. Buchanan, who helped organize NPSTC’s comments in the FCC’s 4.9 GHz band proceeding.

“The answer to the question of what is technically feasible and what is technically feasible at an affordable cost has changed,” Mr. Furth replied. “So what we don’t want to do is come up with an answer that sort of stops that progress in its … tracks.”

He added that while “the laws of physics are the laws of physics, and you can’t break them,” parties should not assume that a new spectrum arrangement is not technically feasible.

“It’s a balance. There are tradeoffs when you’re talking about interference, when you’re talking about sharing spectrum. There are always tradeoffs,” Mr. Furth added. “And we have to candidly and realistically assess what they are. … I think we’ve been pretty successful so far.”

During the session, Mr. Furth touched on a myriad of public safety proceedings at the FCC, including several dealing with 911 issues.

For example, he said the FCC will seek comment on a proposed z-axis, or vertical, standard for indoor 911 location accuracy. The four nationwide carriers last week proposed the standard pursuant to a 911 location accuracy order adopted in 2015 (TR Daily, Aug. 7).

The proposal also was discussed at a separate APCO session yesterday afternoon that included other federal partners of the public safety community.

“It is obviously premature for me to comment, … but we are studying it closely, as I know you all are,” Public Safety Bureau Chief Lisa Fowlkes said. “I can assure you we will provide an opportunity for public comment as the Commission moves forward.”

During his session, Mr. Furth also acknowledged in response to a question the frustrations of state and local officials in making the transition to next-generation 911 (NG-911).

“This is a hard transition because the 911 system has so many different moving parts and so many different stakeholders, and it’s not the kind of system that can be changed overnight,” he noted. “But I still see an awful lot of progress that’s been made. And I think the FCC’s role is to do what we can where we can to incentivize faster progress to help lower costs.”

Mr. Furth also noted that historically, the FCC has worked to set flexible rules concerning 911 services. “Regulation can play a role, but we also have to be careful not to assume that there’s a regulatory answer to every question,” he said. “We want to be technology neutral.”

“What we will do is we will set functional goals, and we will set thresholds and benchmarks and any technology that can be used to meet those is fine with us,” Mr. Furth added. “And I think that serves the public better because then that allows technology to innovate, and technology’s going to innovate and change a lot more quickly than any regulation that we or any agency could possibly enact.”

Mr. Furth also discussed aggregate results from an indoor 911 location accuracy test bed. The data indicates that most wireless 911 calls come from suburban areas. A smaller percentage of calls come from urban, dense urban, and rural areas. Assisted GPS is the most common technology, but device-based hybrid (DBH) technology has performed well in indoor and outdoor accuracy testing in all morphologies. A-GPS and other legacy technologies have not performed as well in testing in dense urban and urban morphologies. Meanwhile, companies are providing supplemental ways to deliver location information, he noted.

“So what we’re seeing is a lot of technological progress,” Mr. Furth said. “The technology is ahead of the rules,” and the FCC will expect to see more than the “minimum rules” adopted by the Commission.

Mr. Furth also cited progress in upgrading public safety answering points (PSAPs) so they can receive texts. In June, 35% of U.S. counties had call centers capable of receiving texts, he said.

Mr. Furth was also asked if there is a date by which the FCC plans to release a T-band notice of proposed rulemaking. Congress required the FCC to reallocate and auction public safety spectrum in the T-band by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023. Bills are pending in the House and Senate (HR 5085 and S 3347) that would repeal the T-band giveback. Public safety entities use the spectrum in 11 major cities.

“No, I do not have a date, but we are going to follow the law as it exists,” Mr. Furth said. “We typically do not hold up on projects because we think maybe Congress is going to … pass a new law. If they pass a new law, then we’ll deal with the new law.”

On another issue, Mr. Furth noted that 800 MHz rebanding has been a slog, but he said, “We are almost finished.”

Rebanding is complete in 45 NPSPAC regions, he noted, but a number of licensees have yet to be rebanded in California (14 licensees) and Texas (29 licensees). In New Mexico, two licensees have yet to complete rebanding. —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily