Public Safety Groups Welcome Draft 4.9 GHz Band Stay Order

Courtesy: TR Daily

Public safety groups today welcomed a draft order circulated to FCC Commissioners this week that sources said would stay the 4.9 gigahertz band order that the agency adopted last September over the objections of Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, now acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, and public safety entities that complained that the new regime would hinder the ability of first responders to use the frequencies (TR Daily, April 29).

Several public safety groups have asked the FCC to vacate the order, which was adopted in WP docket 07-100 (TR Daily, Sept. 30, 2020) and “permits one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties—including commercial and public safety users—in those states that the FCC has not identified as a diverter of 911 fees,” the FCC noted in a news release issued when the item was adopted. “The Report and Order does not limit or modify the rights of any incumbent public safety licensees, so they will be able to continue to provide existing services. These new rules also eliminate the requirement that leased spectrum must be used to support public safety but would require lessees to adhere to the informal coordination requirements applicable to the band.”

The Public Safety Spectrum Alliance, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International filed petitions for reconsideration and the PSSA also filed a petition for stay (TR Daily, Jan. 4). The public safety groups asked the Commission to vacate the sixth report and order and accompanying seventh further notice of proposed rulemaking. A dozen major public safety groups had urged the FCC to pull the item from the agenda for the meeting at which it was adopted. The draft order was circulated on Wednesday, according to the FCC’s weekly list of circulated items.

“The stay is an important issue for public safety.  We are hopeful that the entire commission sees the interoperability chaos which results from reverting to a state by state approach. This is a necessary step to recreate a full record on how best to achieve the FCC’s goals and yet support public safety,” said Jeff Johnson, chief executive officer of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and a leader of the PSSA.

“NPSTC is pleased that the FCC is revisiting the 4.9 GHz issue,” said Ralph Haller, chair of the federation. “This is an important band that needs to be preserved for public safety use.  While the marketplace can function well in many areas, subjecting public safety spectrum to marketplace forces, as was proposed by turning the band over to the states, could destroy critical public safety communications needs.”

Jim Goldstein, director-government relations for NPSTC, said, “NPSTC was disappointed that the FCC did not follow the previous recommendations NPSTC made for 4.9 GHz. The NPSTC proposal would have resulted in a complete database of current and future use, implemented nationwide frequency coordination to prevent uncertainty due to interference, allowed for some dedicated uses like robotics, and opened use of the band to critical infrastructure organizations. This would have assured that the band would serve the needs of public safety well into the future. Under the FCC’s current plan, there is no certainty that public safety needs will be met, based on the decisions made in each state. The plan potentially promotes a profit motive within a state rather than assuring adequate public safety access to the band.”  

APCO Executive Director and CEO Derek Poarch said, “We appreciate Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s circulation of a stay order. As we and many others in public safety have made clear, the 4.9 GHz order was ill-conceived and unlikely to promote public safety or the Commission’s spectrum utilization goals. A stay would be appropriate to enable the Commission to chart a much better course for this band.”

“I applaud Acting FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s move to circulate a stay to FCC Commissioners on the Commission’s previous 4.9 GHz order,” said Kenneth Stuebing, acting president and chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “Public safety communications on the 4.9 GHz band provide mission-critical support for local public safety agencies, such as hosting broadband intranet networks and bomb disposal robot operations. As new technologies are adapted for public safety usage this spectrum will become increasingly important to the first responder community. It is critical that 4.9 GHz spectrum remains available for public safety. I urge the FCC Commissioners to support the Acting Chairwoman’s stay on the 4.9 GHz spectrum order.”

“We stand firm on our position that 4.9 is a welcome resource for public safety, and that the ‘under-used’ argument is no longer relevant,” said Kevin McGinnis, communications technology adviser to the National Association of State EMS Officials. “FirstNet has opened a door that has revealed more critical uses for this bandwidth in EMS as it has for all of public safety and we are jumping onboard so that our patients benefit. The pandemic has emphasized our need for telehealth capability so that we can safely test, treat, and intervene in life-threatening emergencies without putting responders at risk. This is but one example of how 4.9 will serve our increasing need—a need that can’t be met by the fragmented coordination created by the 2020 Order. EMS systems do not stop at state lines.”

An FCC spokesperson declined to comment. 

“This decision is unfortunate,” said Ms. Rosenworcel said in her dissent on the item. “It is not the right way forward for the 4.9 GHz band. It is a slapdash effort to try to foster use of this spectrum by giving states the right to divert public safety communications in exchange for revenue. This approach has virtually no support in the record. However, it does have opposition from a wide range of stakeholders from wireless carriers to public safety officials.” —Paul Kirby,

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