FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today called on Congress to repeal its mandate that the agency reallocate and auction public safety T-band spectrum. In a related development, the Commission today suspended the processing of T-band renewal applications.
“In 2012, Congress passed legislation requiring the FCC to reallocate and auction T-Band spectrum used for decades by public safety licensees and fund the relocation of those licensees elsewhere. The agency has extensively analyzed the T-Band and concluded that moving forward is not viable — relocation costs for public safety licensees would likely far exceed any potential auction revenue, making it impossible to fund the relocation and comply with the mandate. The Government Accountability Office has agreed — reporting to Congress that the T-Band mandate is unworkable and could deprive first responders of their current ability to communicate by radio,” Mr. Pai said in a statement.
“Because of these concerns, I’m calling on Congress to repeal the T-Band mandate,” he added. “I’m hopeful that Congress can resolve this matter without delay. Doing so will not only protect public safety communications in the T-Band but will also allow our dedicated auction staff to focus in 2020 on auctions that will make new airwaves available for 5G, like spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands.”
The requirement was included in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and public safety entities have been urging Congress since then to repeal the provision, arguing that the T-band spectrum in the 470-512 megahertz band is crucial to public safety agencies in the 11 cities where it is used.
Legislation has been reintroduced in the House and Senate to repeal the statutory mandate.
The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act was reintroduced in October by Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), and Bob Casey (D., Pa.) (TR Daily, Oct. 31). The bill was reintroduced in the House in January by Rep. Elliot Engel (D., N.Y.). Similar legislation failed to pass both chambers in the 115th Congress.
In a report released in June, GAO said that Congress should consider legislation that would rescind the T-band mandate (TR Daily, June 21). The report also said that the FCC is concerned about the impact to public safety of relocating systems.
GAO noted that the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has estimated that relocating public safety systems in the 11 cities where the T-band is used by public safety entities could cost more than $5.9 billion. NPSTC says that alternative spectrum is not available (TR Daily, March 15, 2013).
GAO said the FCC has calculated the costs of relocating public safety users from the T-band at $5 billion to $6 billion. The agency estimates it would cost $4 billion extra to relocate business-industrial users, GAO said, although Congress is not requiring those users to be compensated for moving to other spectrum.
Meanwhile, the Wireless Telecommunications and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus announced today that they are suspending the processing of applications to renew parts 22 and 90 licenses for systems that operate on the T-band.
“Licensees that have filed, and will in the future file, timely and complete applications for renewal of license may continue to operate using their licensed facilities past the license expiration date while the suspension is in effect,” the bureaus said in a public notice released in PS docket 13-42.
The public notice pointed out that in 2012, “to stabilize the spectral environment in light of the T-Band Mandate, the Bureaus suspended acceptance and processing of certain other T-Band applications [TR Daily, April 26, 2012]. That freeze was imposed to allow the Commission to consider issues surrounding future use of the T-Band and implement the Act. … Given that the February 22, 2021 statutory deadline is less than 15 months away, the Bureaus have determined that suspension of renewal processing is now necessary for the Commission to have the full range of implementation options available.”
Sen. Markey welcomed Mr. Pai’s statement today.
“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the [country] and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” the lawmaker said. “I commend Chairman Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”
Public safety groups also praised Mr. Pai’s support.
“Chairman Pai’s call for repeal of 6103 of P.L. 112-96 is to be applauded,” NPSTC said. “His statement is consistent with the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) and public safety calls for repeal of section 6103.”
“APCO has always supported repeal of the T-Band provision. It’s the right thing for Congress to do,” said Derek Poarch, executive director and chief executive officer of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International.
“Our members appreciate Chairman Pai’s support for the repeal of the T-Band auction requirement,” said International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Board Chairman Gary Ludwig. “The fire and emergency service relies on the T-Band for interoperable communications in many of our nation’s metropolitan areas. In cities like New York and Chicago, public safety does not have an alternative to the T-Band. Today, fire departments large and small have access to the spectrum they need to communicate with each other. If a T-Band auction moves forward, this will no longer be the case. On behalf of the IAFC, I urge Congress to pass legislation repealing the T-Band auction requirement this year.”
“We see this as a move in the right direction. We hope that … Congress is open to our pleas,” said Craig Allen, chair of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Communications & Technology Committee and a retired lieutenant colonel for the Illinois State Police. “It is unworkable to vacate the T-band space for public safety.”
Andy Seybold, a wireless industry consultant and public safety advocate, said he was surprised to see Mr. Pai weigh in. “Previously it appears as if the FCC said that they could do nothing unless Congress passed a bill to repeal the give back,” he noted.- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org