Two recent regulatory decisions will greatly affect two aspects of 800 MHz rebanding and are of vital interest to the user community. First, the FCC has issued its rules for rebanding along the Canadian border. Second, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has sided with the FCC regarding its decision to force Sprint Nextel to abandon its interleaved channels in the band by the original deadline of June 26 for completion of rebanding.

The Canadian border rules primarily adopt the FCC's original proposal. Some of the highlights are as follows.

  • Rebanding along the Canadian border is to take place over 30 months. Licensees seeking a Planning Funding Agreement (PFA) must submit a request within 60 days of the effective date of the order. Once submitted, licensees will have 30 days to negotiate the Planning Agreement. Planning must be completed within 90 to 110 days of Transition Administrator approval of the PFA (depending on system size). The negotiating period for frequency reconfiguration agreements will mirror the current 30-day-plus mediation process.
  • Non-NPSPAC public safety systems in the 806-809/851-854 MHz portion of the band will relocate, to the extent feasible, to immediately adjacent U.S. primary spectrum above 809/854 MHz.
  • Non-NPSPAC public safety systems that cannot be relocated above the 806-809/851-854 MHz band will remain in this segment but will be converted to operate with 12.5 kHz channel spacing.
  • NPSPAC systems currently on U.S. primary spectrum will move to the 806-809/851-854 MHz band so that they are assigned channels that are contiguous with new NPSPAC operations in non-border areas.
  • NPSPAC systems that currently operate on Canadian primary spectrum will relocate to the 806-809/851-854 MHz band — again, to to the extent feasible — after all public safety licensees on U.S. primary spectrum have been accommodated. NPSPAC systems that cannot be relocated from Canadian primary spectrum to U.S. primary spectrum will relocate to the lowest available Canadian primary spectrum and will continue to operate on a secondary basis to licensees in Canada.
  • Non-public safety (B/ILT and SMR) systems in the lowest block of U.S. primary spectrum will relocate to U.S. primary spectrum above the lowest block of Canadian primary spectrum. In this upper portion of the band, ESMR and non-ESMR systems (high-site B/ILT and SMR) will be separated rather than interleaved, but non-ESMR systems will have the option of remaining interleaved with ESMR under certain conditions (provided Sprint Nextel consents). Should a non-ESMR licensee elect not to move, they will be protected by the interim interference protection now in place, not the more stringent post-rebanding interference standard.
  • The dividing line between Regions 2 and 3 will be revised to align with the Pennsylvania/Ohio border for the entire 800 MHz band.
  • Should Sprint Nextel, after rebanding concludes, retain any spectrum in the non-ESMR portion of the band — as determined for that region — that has not been used for the relocation of incumbent licensees, this spectrum will be made exclusively available to public safety entities for three years and to both public safety and critical infrastructure entities in the fourth and fifth years. However, Sprint Nextel will be able to continue operations on Canadian primary frequencies which are below the ESMR/non-ESMR dividing line, provided such operations are at least 1 MHz above public safety operations in that region.

Regarding the D.C. Circuit's decision, it is unlikely that the FCC will be ready to accept applications for interleaved channels abandoned by Nextel by June 26. And because of the impact of the ruling on Sprint Nextel's operations in certain spectrum deficient markets, it seems likely that the FCC and the carrier will work out a compromise. Such a compromise should include interference reduction and access by public safety to abandoned channels as soon as possible.

Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at