Consensus Plan adds more problems than it solves

By Jill Lyon and Diane Cornell

The Federal Communications Commission has before it an important proceeding that is vital to our country's public-safety and critical-infrastructure community. This proceeding was initiated with three admirable goals: first, remedying interference to 800 MHz public-safety systems; second, ensuring minimum disruption to the existing licensing structure; and third, assuring sufficient spectrum for critical public-safety communications.

Unfortunately, the proceeding has moved far from these basic goals. Instead, it has focused on a so-called “Consensus Plan” (initiated by Nextel), which does not remedy interference to public-safety systems and contains numerous other infirmities.

The plan represents a complicated restructuring — involving the moving of radio assignments — which would cause significant disruption to all public-safety licensees throughout the country, regardless of whether they are receiving any interference. Despite clever rhetoric, the reality is that interference will only be slightly improved.

Currently, the public-safety community is experiencing three types of interference: out of band, intermodulation and receiver overload. While interference from out-of-band emissions would decrease under the Consensus Plan, other types of interference — such as intermodulation — would be improved only marginally.

Intermodulation and receiver-overload interference can only be eliminated if public-safety obtains new receivers. Yet, the Consensus Plan contemplates the replacement of just 1 percent of such receivers. Motorola, which manufactures the vast majority of public-safety radios, recently published a study using the Consensus Plan's own assumptions, and concluded that up to 30 percent of public-safety radios may have to be replaced.

Such an increase would raise costs by more than $2 billion. Unfortunately, only $700 million has been earmarked for public safety under this plan. Should cost overruns occur, public-safety and state treasuries that already are drowning in red ink might be forced to make up the difference.

Consensus Plan proponents tout the illusion that public safety will get additional spectrum at 800 MHz. This is highly speculative. It requires Nextel to vacate its spectrum in the middle of the 800 MHz band.

It also assumes that other, non-public-safety licensees will not need it to meet their own mandated rebanding obligations. Nextel would require 16 MHz of 800 MHz spectrum in a market before public-safety would receive any additional space. Moreover, if any 800 MHz spectrum becomes available to public safety, it will not be for some years into a complex rebanding process.

We need a faster, more focused approach to the 800 MHz radio interference problem. The “Balanced Approach” plan attacks and resolves interference — both proactively and reactively — at its source with enhanced best practices and without the significant disruptions contemplated in the Consensus Plan. It provides a solution wherever a problem exists, and pays to fix that problem at no cost to public safety. And, unlike the Consensus Plan, there is no funding cap.

If a problem exists, the Balanced Approach plan pays to have it fixed, and quickly. There is no cap on the number of receivers that would have to be replaced. There is no benefit to one commercial operator. There is no disruption to public safety throughout the country. Instead, there is a deliberate and thoughtful focus on the safety and lives of our first responders. The Federal Communications Commission needs to hear from the public-safety community about its real needs.

Editor's Note: Jill Lyon is general counsel for the United Telecom Council and Diane Cornell is vice president for regulatory affairs at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Visit www.Fix800MHzNow.com to obtain additional information regarding the Balanced Approach plan.

Balanced Approach plan proponents distort the facts

By Alan Tilles

Unfortunately, the CTIA/UTC commentary on the preceeding page significantly distorts what is — and is not — part of the “Consensus Plan.” It also claims benefits from the Balanced Approach that the overwhelming majority of the public-safety community does not believe will occur. Allow me to focus my rebuttal on a few key statements made by the proponents:

“Should cost overruns occur, public-safety and state treasuries that already are drowning in red ink might be forced to make up the difference.” — The Consensus Plan always has provided that no entity need move without the complete necessary funding already having been committed, and in escrow, for that relocation. Period. No public safety entity will be required to put out any money, up front or otherwise. To suggest otherwise is a gross misrepresentation of the Consensus Plan.

“Consensus Plan proponents tout the illusion that public safety will get additional spectrum at 800 MHz. This is highly speculative.” — In fact, Consensus Plan advocates conducted sample studies before the plan was submitted. The number of additional frequencies that will be available to public safety after rebanding was discussed at several Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), International seminars. In some very large urban areas (Dallas, for example), the number was quite significant. In other areas (such as San Diego), the number was small. The Balanced Approach proponents have never submitted or otherwise shown any evidence or studies to support their statement.

“The Balanced Approach plan attacks and resolves interference, both proactively and reactively, at its source with enhanced best practices.” — Please take the time to review what the proponents have actually filed. You will find that their series of solutions is only imposed on carriers operating from 851 MHz to 869 MHz. In other words, cellular operators are exempt from the requirements the proponents seek to impose.

However, this ignores the fact that Cellular A systems are a significant cause of interference, particularly to National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) systems. In any case, best practices — enhanced or otherwise — are no panacea or interference “silver bullet.” Cities such as Denver have been using so-called enhanced best practices for quite some time now, with negligible success. (Please refer to Denver's engineering consultant's presentation on the APCO web site for further information.)

If what the cellular operators are proposing is so wonderful, why have the Cellular A operators in Denver, Anne Arundel County, Md., Orange County, Calif., and other locations been unable to resolve their interference issues after more than three years of effort? The fact is, “best practices” are at best a temporary bandage because they fail to correct the underlying causes of public-safety interference in the 800 MHz band.

The suggestion that the CTIA/UTC approach is a “proactive” solution is simply not credible. Areas of interference cannot be predicted with any kind of certainty — where are the engineers who will tell you that the Balanced Approach can do that? Adopting this approach will place officers' lives at risk, as they will experience unresolved or new areas of interference when they need communications most. Remember, as cellular companies continue to build out their sites, and use lower and lower sites, this problem will only grow.

Moreover, as Cellular A carriers replace their analog service with broadband technology, interference to public-safety operators using the NPSPAC channels will worsen; yet, broadband architectures preclude using the best-practices tool of taking out a channel or two to prevent an intermodulation “hit.” In other words, interference that can be mitigated today — at least temporarily — will be irreparable in the not-too-distant future.

While I might accept the notion that the Consensus Plan isn't the most wonderful thing since sliced bread, I can tell you it isn't one-sided, as it was the result of negotiations to reach a fair compromise for all parties. I also can tell you that the Balanced Approach plan only benefits Nextel's competitors as well as private radio attorneys who will get to spend the rest of their billable days at the FCC arguing over whether there is interference at a particular location, and which carrier or carriers caused it. At the end of the day, that doesn't serve the public interest.

Editor's Note: Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio, Internet and entertainment industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.