The start of the 800 MHz rebanding process ushered in an era of unprecedented activity in the public-safety community. Agencies nationwide are scrambling to determine the items covered by rebanding, how the process is supposed to work and how to ensure they suffer no downtime in their system operations as a result of the process.

Because the FCC left many of the procedural details for the Transition Administrator to decide, there are numerous issues that still must be resolved. Fortunately, NPSPAC licensees are not the first to reband — that task is left to General Category licensees (which does include some public-safety agencies). In the meantime, smart public-safety licensees are working hard, conducting inventories, talking about interoperability issues with adjacent communities and contracting with professionals to perform the work.

On this last issue, different municipalities have taken varied approaches to vendors. In some cases, public-safety agencies have avoided the cumbersome and lengthy request for proposal process because agencies are not paying the bill for these services. In other cases, some agencies have felt more comfortable issuing RFPs. However, because the agency ultimately is not financially responsible, it makes the selection criteria difficult.

Another difficult issue concerns how to conduct before and after testing to ensure both comparable network performance after the reconfiguration and that Nextel fully covers the rebanding costs. Several engineering consultants are presently working on criteria to determine when and how tests should be conducted. Agencies should watch the progress on this issue closely. One of the most controversial issues still to be resolved is what equipment must be replaced. It is clear that very little — if any — equipment presently used on general category spectrum must be replaced, and that some equipment presently used on NPSPAC spectrum will need replacement. However, the specifics are not clear.

It is vital that manufacturers, Nextel and the TA reach an agreement on the equipment issue. In the meantime, please be cautious, as there are numerous rumors circulating through the industry on the replacement equipment issue. Which equipment must be replaced is only one issue generating misinformation. Public-safety licensees also have been led to believe that the expansion band frequencies (860.0125 MHz to 860.9875 MHz) receive less interference protection compared with other frequencies in the band. In fact, expansion band spectrum receives the same interference protection as spectrum below 860 MHz. Thus, public-safety licensees should closely weigh whether they need to move off their 860 MHz spectrum. Because any 860 MHz spectrum abandoned by a public-safety licensee will not be held out for another public-safety agency. Public-safety licensees leaving the 860 MHz band ultimately would leave — after rebanding — one less channel available for another public-safety agency.

It can be expected that most of the controversial issues will be resolved prior to the beginning of NPSPAC negotiations. However, it is important that agencies not wait for the deadline. Rather, it is vital that NPSPAC licensees be proactive, now, in preparation for negotiations. We already have seen repeated delays imposed by the administrative process at many agencies. Continual delays in preparing for negotiations will result in agencies unable to meet the deadlines imposed by the FCC's rebanding order.


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.