Public Safety Advocate: T-Band Revisited, New FirstNet Authority CEO

Just to refresh your memories, the T-Band is the 470–512-MHz spectrum that was allocated to UHF-TV channels 14-20 that has since been made available to both public safety and, in some areas, business Land Mobile Radio (LMR) users. This was implemented in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) action in 1971 and today there are eleven major metro areas that make use of the T-Band.

When Congress passed the bill authorizing FirstNet  it included other provisions as well. One of these was that the T-Band would be available for spectrum auction nine years after the bill was signed. Once the auctions were over, the public safety community would have to vacate the spectrum within another two years. Those in Congress who added this provision to the bill indicated they had to have a “give-back” of some type to help them justify the release of ten additional megahertz of 700-MHz spectrum for public safety. It was not clear in the law who would pay for T-Band users to move off the T-Band nor where the FCC would find spectrum to accommodate them.

Some in Congress at the time FirstNet was passed into law believed FirstNet would be able to absorb all of the existing LMR users in these eleven metro areas. However, as of today, FirstNet is not ready to take over complete public safety-grade services including off-network voice communications, one to many dispatch and other functions needed by first responders. Therefore, as the deadline approaches, efforts to have Congress review and rescind this portion of the law have been stepped up.

When I decided it was time to revisit the T-Band issue and report on any progress toward keeping it for public safety, I turned to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) for an update. First, I want to address the issue of an auction for this spectrum in the eleven major metro areas. I think at the time Congress honestly believed auctioning this spectrum would enrich the coffers of the United States with billions of dollars. However, since then many things have changed and along with these changes came a drastic reduction in what this spectrum is worth at auction.

What has changed? Mainly, the type of TV transmissions being used has changed. Channels 14-20 were allocated in the days when each analog TV channel needed six megahertz of spectrum for the video and sound. With digital TV today, multiple channels can be packed into a single 6-MHz TV channel. When the 600-MHz spectrum was put on the auction block for broadband cellular operations, demand for that spectrum was not as great as the FCC anticipated and only some of the 600-MHz TV spectrum was transferred to broadband usage and the amount of money raised at the 600-MHz auction was less than $20 billion. T-Mobile was the largest bidder, AT&T bid a little and then sold the spectrum, and Sprint and Verizon did not submit any bids.

The TV channels that were and are being cleared have either relocated to another portion of the TV spectrum or the companies are using the incentive auction funds to go out of business. The over-the-air TV business is becoming a difficult place for a TV station to make money. None of this bodes well for a spectrum auction for UHF (T-Band) channels that are only available in some of the eleven major metro areas. Take a look at the chart below that shows which metro areas are using which TV channels. It is easy to see that an auction for TV station 14, for example, would only provide spectrum in six of the eleven metro areas and an auction for VHF-TV station 20 would only yield spectrum in two metro areas.

The rest of the equation is that this spectrum is viable only for TV stations (and its current use for LMR systems). It is not suitable for broadband data because it would require larger antennas and raise other technical issues that would not yield the required results, AND it would mean these channels would have to be cleared of TV stations in the rest of the United States, something I doubt the FCC would even contemplate. So, the value of this spectrum is nowhere near where it would need to be to be worth auctioning by the FCC. It turns out that its highest and best use is exactly what it is currently being used for: public safety and some business-licensed land mobile radio systems.

 

Courtesy of T-Band Report by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC)

 

T-Band Status Update

I asked Jim Goldstein at the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) to provide an update on what is going on in Congress. The IAFC is one of the organizations that is bird-dogging the potential legislation that will, hopefully, be passed to keep the T-Band available for public safety LMR use. LA-RICS and many other organizations are working diligently to have new legislation passed. I thought the best way to present this update was to include Jim’s updated status report in the Public Safety Advocate.

“T-Band:

Status: H.R. 5085 currently has 19 co-sponsors and S. 3347 has 4 co-sponsors.

Background:  In December 2017, NPSTC sponsored a meeting in NYC on T-Band. Because of that meeting, on February 13, public safety representatives from the New York City metropolitan area, Boston, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles met with Congressional offices to discuss the importance of preventing the auction of the T-Band (470-512 MHz). As a result, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (H.R. 5085) on February 26, which would repeal the section of P.L. 112-96 requiring the FCC to begin the auction of the T-Band spectrum. The IAFC sent a statement supporting the bill. As of the Board report, there are 18 cosponsors to H.R. 5085.

The staff of Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, met representatives of the various public safety organizations, including the IAFC, and suggested that public safety organizations should agree to voluntarily give up 40 MHz of the 50 MHz in the 4.9 GHz band in exchange for repeal of the T-Band auction. Ultimately, public safety organizations rejected this offer as creating another future problem even though it solved a problem with the T-Band.  A Senate bill was introduced by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and has four co-sponsors. The Massachusetts fire chiefs met with Senator Markey during the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in April and asked him to support the repeal of the T-Band auction.

During this time, the FCC issued a notice on the use of the 4.9 GHz band. This band is dedicated to public safety and is used for fixed and mobile services. Many jurisdictions use the band for public safety use. For example, New York City uses the 4.9 GHz band extensively. The New York City Fire Department utilizes the 4.9 GHz band to support wireless video and data communications at the scene of major fires, including wireless command boards which track all resources, both human and material, at the scene of an incident enabling incident commanders to more readily and efficiently conduct fire operations. The New York City Police Department utilizes the 4.9 GHz band to support on-street camera video backhaul, specialized video link applications supporting bomb squad robots, and counter terrorism applications.

The IAFC joined with comments filed by NPSTC. NPSTC’s comments discussed the current use of the spectrum by public safety agencies and the future use of the spectrum. NPSTC’s comments opposed sharing the 4.9 GHz band with commercial users (such as wireless carriers). Also, NPSTC provided numerous examples of public safety use beyond New York City. Austin, Los Angeles, San Diego County, Oregon and Tennessee all use the 4.9 GHz extensively. Many other jurisdictions use the spectrum for public safety use.

The FCC has the view that the spectrum band is being underutilized which NPSTC disputed. Two of the Republican commissioners suggested that the spectrum should be auctioned, when the FCC notice was released. This was astonishing to those in public safety and in other industries as an example of the FCC commissioners judging the situation prior to receiving the comments. The IAFC will continue to fight to protect public safety operations on both the T-Band and the 4.9 GHz band.”

I also received some other information from Jim I want to pass along as well. First, the only network carrier to really step up and support the effort to extract the T-Band from the give-back scenario has been Verizon Wireless. Further, in some areas, especially Texas, this is not only about the public safety community. In Dallas, Exxon Mobile, General Motors, Halliburton Energy Services, and other business users are heavy users of the T-Band. In Houston, the list includes Dow Chemical, Dupont, Fort Bend School District, Shell Chemical, and others as well. Yet in the give-back segment of the FirstNet bill there is no mention of business users or what could happen to them if public safety is required to move off the T-Band in the eleven metro areas that employ it.

My thanks to Jim and others who have been keeping me up-to-date on this very important pending legislation. Perhaps it is time, once again, to ask all public safety personnel to reach out to their elected officials and let them know the T-Band is critical to the public safety community. I think it is important to make their voices heard, especially for those not directly affected by the potential loss of the T-band. Public safety has been successful in making Congress aware of issues that need attention and when the public safety community comes together for an important cause such as the retention of the T-band, good things tend to happen.

FirstNet’s New “Acting” CEO

I was hoping the new acting CEO would be a person from inside the FirstNet Authority, which is what has happened. What’s more, he has been with the endeavor as long as most of us who worked it in the early days. While his bio tells the story of his qualifications, it does not tell the story of his contributions to FirstNet since the very beginning.

I met Ed Parkinson early on. I was invited to DC to present a talk to Congressional staffers who were interested in learning more about the then “D-Block.” Public safety wanted this spectrum added to its existing ten megahertz of 700-MHz spectrum but many others simply wanted it auctioned with no strings on how a commercial network could use it. I did not realize it at the time, but once I arrived to give my speech, I knew I had been set up. There were four other presenters during this June 2010 discussion. The deck was stacked! All four of them, including two from the FCC, spoke before I did and described in great detail why the spectrum was not needed by public safety and why it should simply be auctioned.

By the time it was my turn to speak, all the others had painted a picture not based on any actual knowledge of the needs of the public safety community, but rather on their own desires to see it put out to auction. I gave my twenty-minute speech and then took questions. Some questions implied that many of the Congressional staffers in the room were not in favor of handing over the spectrum to public safety. I was feeling totally defeated and angry that I had let myself be hooked into the slug fest with four against one. As I was preparing to leave, a Congressional staffer came up and introduced himself to me.

It was Ed Parkinson and he and I spent some time talking about the D-Block. He was in favor of putting it into the hands of the public safety community and at the time was a staffer on Representative King’s Department of Homeland Security committee. Ed educated those of us who were new to Congress and the Hill, pointing out that the staffers were the most important people to meet with since they in turn would influence their Representative or Senator. He helped craft the King bill that was introduced but it became one of the bills that died an early death.

Ed helped us time and time again, pointing us to staffers we should talk with, being circumspect the entire time. He told us which staffers had technical knowledge and could be talked to on that level and which did not and needed to have more generic discussions with members of the public safety community. Once FirstNet was born, it was not long before Ed was on the FirstNet staff. He was the liaison to the world of all things political and helped FirstNet through its hearings with both houses of Congress. He actively continued to work on behalf of FirstNet and was deeply involved in the opt-in push after the RFP was awarded.

I was hoping the new CEO, even an acting CEO, would be chosen from within the FirstNet Authority and I am very pleased to learn Ed has been chosen to fill this position. He has been with public safety since the beginning, he “gets it,” and he is well respected both on the Hill and within the public safety community. I think we will be seeing some positive changes in the role the FirstNet Authority takes in the future. Between Ed, the new board chairman, and vice chairman, I think the FirstNet Authority will be well served for many years to come.

It takes a special type of person to be able to move between politics, public safety, and business, and I think I know Ed well enough to say he is a perfect fit for this position and I wish him all the best. I am certain that in the near future the term “acting” will be removed from Ed’s title and we will have a very capable long-term CEO running the FirstNet Authority.

Note: The next issue of the Public Safety Advocate will be a few days late. Next week is the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and I will be attending until mid-week. 

Andrew M Seybold
©2018, Andrew Seybold, Inc.

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