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Fri Dec 4 15
I have two issues on my mind this week. The first has to do with vendors or potential vendors that are going around visiting state FirstNet organizations and the governors’ staff. At first the story was if you opt out then we will build your network and you will reap huge rewards from the secondary users of the network that you, Mr. or Ms. State, can spend for anything. This recently ended when FirstNet issued a definitive statement that funds paid by both first responders and secondary users can only be used for network operations and enhancements after they go to FirstNet for distribution.
Now I have been told that these same vendors are back with two different ideas to convince states to work with them prior to the FirstNet RFP. The first is to tell the state that it can have access to the 12 MHz of spectrum now used by Public Safety for 700-MHz Land Mobile Radio (LMR) that is right above the FirstNet spectrum. When FirstNet came into being, the bill also designated this spectrum as “flexible use” spectrum. However, today there are thousands and thousands of licensed users and many local, regional, and statewide LMR systems operating in this band. Next, of course, is the fact that the spectrum is not licensed by the FCC to FirstNet, it is licensed to each individual entity, usually for a 10-year period with almost automatic renewal. Any state that believes it can take over this spectrum and turn it into for-pay use has not done its due diligence for sure.
The next ploy is gutsier. These same vendors are convincing states to write an RFP and go to bid for LTE systems on Band 14 ahead of the RFP from FirstNet and without the state even holding a lease on the Band 14 spectrum. Any state that would fall for this ploy and actually go to bid for a system on spectrum it does not have a license to use would be wasting its time and taxpayers’ money. My advice to the states remains the same. Wait until you know the outcome of the RFP and what FirstNet has in mind for your state. Weigh your options carefully at that point. My final recommendation is that you agree to let the FirstNet partner build out the network planned for your state but negotiate the lease for the spectrum so your local and state organizations can add network capabilities with approved network components.
The next issue will become a problem in the not too distant future. It is the T-Band, which is spectrum used by Public Safety and business users and occupies unused UHF-TV channels in a given area. The T-Band allocations were made in 11 metro areas and while the band is referred to as 470-512 MHz, in reality it is allocated in 6-MHz chunks in each metro area since a TV channel is licensed for 6 MHz of spectrum. So one city might have radios on UHF-TV channel 14’s spectrum, one on UHF channel 15, and so on. In a few cases there are more than one TV channels licensed to a given area.
However, when FirstNet was formed, the final bill passed by Congress called for a “give back” of Public Safety spectrum in exchange for the D-Block and what is now a 10X10-MHz portion of the 700-MHz spectrum. During the discussions with Congress and Public Safety, a number of different givebacks were suggested but in the final bill, the Congressional powers decided that taking back the T-Band in the 11 major cities would be good, and would enable more TV stations to be relocated from the 600-MHz band and stuffed into the lower TV channel space.
This was hotly opposed by the Public Safety Alliance, but at the end of the day the feds prevailed. The law reads that by 2022 the 11 areas using the T-Band for Public Safety will have to vacate that band. Interestingly enough, the law does not address business users nor does it fund any of the moves that will be required.
NPTSC jumped in at that point and developed a comprehensive paper detailing the number of systems affected, the cost of moving them, and the fact that in most cities there was nowhere to move. It appears as though the assumption by Congress was that it could, by then, simply make use of FirstNet for all needed communications. However, that is not possible at this point for a number of reasons including the fact that LTE is not nearly as close to being a mission-critical network as existing LMR systems. The NPSTC report was submitted to the FCC and accepted on the record. However, the FCC is not in a position to make any changes to the law, only Congress can do that. I think it is time to dust off this great report and go back to walking the halls of Congress after the election, perhaps using 2016 to prepare.
The T-Band issue made me think of several things. The first is in the words of a Kingston Trio Song: “Citizens of Boston hear me out, this could happen to you!” Next on my mind was the thought that it might come down to this: Mr. or Ms. Marathon Runner, would you rather broadband that race you are running from your GoPro video camera or have the Public Safety organizations be able to communicate to and among each other? If the T-Band system had not been in operation during the Boston Marathon bombings, the first responder communications would not have been so well organized that it led to the apprehension of the suspects. Your choice citizens, I hope you make the right one!
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