The FCC's recent decision to permit public-safety licensees to discuss terms and conditions of their 800 MHz rebanding agreements with other public-safety licensees brings new and interesting issues into play.

Previously, the alleged confidentiality of these agreements meant Sprint Nextel could argue that any one licensee's estimated costs were significantly higher than another similar system. However, the licensee generally did not have sufficient information available to argue that the other system really was not comparable. As a result, the role of attorneys involved in multiple band reconfigurations became very valuable, because they are the ones with the details from similar deals that could counter Sprint Nextel's arguments.

Now, either side can utilize the details of those “comparable” deals, which creates a perfect be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario. One National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee, or NPSPAC, trunked public-safety system is comparable to another only when the manufacturer of the equipment is the same, the vintage of the radios is the same and the number of sub-agencies using radios on both systems is the same.

So while the licensee may seek out agreements by other public-safety agencies for highest-cost estimates, Sprint Nextel certainly will do the same in the opposite direction.

The problem here is that these are only estimates, which could reflect licensees who simply forgot to include costs for a number of items or were bullied by an aggressive Sprint Nextel negotiator. Do licensees wish to be saddled with the terms of someone else's poorly negotiated terms?

However, since Channels 1-120 reconfigurations are completed, it's fair to start looking at actual costs of other licensees — not just estimates. While no NPSPAC licensees have completed a reconfiguration so far — which would yield significant information — the experience of the 1-120 licensees does provide some insight as to how reality has squared with estimates. The results are as follows:

  • Even with outside vendors taking on as many tasks as possible for a licensee, there will be a significant amount of time spent by the licensee to make rebanding happen.

  • Rebanding will take more calendar time than expected, as community events take precedence.

  • Time spent on closing issues will be far more than anticipate.

  • It will be difficult to exceed the original cost estimate without first asking for a Change Order.

  • Problems will arise if agencies do not coordinate with other licensees with which they have interoperable communications.

Vendors are learning these lessons, too, and now are able to provide more realistic cost estimates. However, until the first round of NPSPAC reconfigurations is completed, the true impact of trying to replace numerous radios and trying to maintain interoperability will not be known.

The failure, thus far, to receive approval for the early replacement of radios (even before the rebanding agreement is reached) is going to mean that many agencies will need more than one year to complete work. Combined with other issues, agencies are in for a bumpy ride.


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 atilles@srgpe.com.