• FCC Seeking Comments on Proposed Changes to Public Safety Communications Spectrum
  • January 23, 2014 | Authors: Tamara Bogosian; James R. Hobson; Gail A. Karish; G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firms: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Irvine Office ; Best Best & Krieger LLP - Washington Office ; Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • The FCC recently called for comments on proposed changes to the 4.9 GHz public safety communications licensing rules, including making non-public safety entities eligible users, requiring more specific data from applicants, and imposing formal frequency coordination. If your public safety services hold one or more of the 200-plus 4.9 GHz licenses issued in California, they should carefully evaluate the proposed changes that are aimed at greater efficiency but have drawn fire from several large users in New York, New Jersey and Washington State. Among other criticisms, these users object to new limits on channel aggregation and to reserving channels nationwide for purposes not viable in particular regions.

    Twelve years ago, the FCC allocated 50 MHz of former federal government spectrum (4940-4990 MHz) to public safety communications, enabling broadband mobile “command post” uses for incident scene management, dispatch operations and vehicle/personal communications. Given the emphasis on mobility and temporary emergency deployment at the time, the licensing rules avoided formal frequency coordination and permitted “blanket” authorizations within public safety jurisdictions. When certain permanent fixed point-to-point uses were adopted in 2009, the number of licenses increased dramatically --  now totalling near 3,000 nationwide, including more than 200 in California.

    Concerned that this sizable chunk of spectrum is under-utilized, the FCC called for comments on proposed changes to the 4.9 GHz licensing rules. Late in the public notice cycle, the FCC called for particular reactions to the October 2013 report of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). Among its recommendations:

    • Frequency Coordination: Require certified frequency coordination processes for future 4.9 GHz applications, allowing a one-year grace period for existing licensees to “re-license” under the new rules.
    • Non-Public Safety Use: Allow Critical Infrastructure Industries (“CII”), as defined, to apply for two 5 MHz channels, but not to exceed that number without giving a public safety entity planning for a possibly competing use a time-limited right of first refusal to the additional channel or channels.
    • Channelization: Under present rules, 18 channels of varying widths can be aggregated into units of 5, 10, 15 or 20 MHz. In the NPSTC proposal, channels would be accorded specific uses or ranges of use, and aggregations would not normally exceed10 MHz. The present one-year limit on temporary point-to-point (“PTP”) authorizations would be reduced to 30 days unless specific showings of need for greater duration could be made. Existing licensees whose operations do not comply with the new channel plan would have up to five years to come into compliance.

    Despite the support of such commenters as APCO, Los Angeles County and 700 MHz Planning Region 13 (Illinois), the report has drawn fire from Seattle/King County, Washington, the City of New York and the New York City Transit Authority, as well as 700 MHz Planning Region 8 (Metro New York/New Jersey).

    Only four of the several thousand 4.9 GHz licensees have weighed in since October against the specific recommendations of the NPSTC. There may be good reason for the silence if most licensees accept the recommendations. However, every licensee who deployed relatively early in good-faith reliance on the rules initially adopted should consider the substantial objections and decide whether to submit its views - pro or con - to the FCC.

    • Does your system depend on spectrum aggregations of greater than 10 MHz?
    • Do you object to reducing the narrowband temporary term to 30 days?
    • Do you object to having to “re-license” in a year or less?
    • Do you object to complying with the rules in no more than 5 years?
    • How much do you expect compliance will cost?
    • Would you prefer more latitude for your Region in varying from the rules?