It may have occurred during the holiday season, but few involved with reconfiguration of the 800 MHz band were celebrating their progress as the first major milestone passed in the three-year project.

Dec. 26 marked the end of the scheduled mandatory negotiation period for Wave 1 licensees operating in channels 1-120, which must first be cleared to enable reorganization of the spectral band. Transition Administrator (TA) officials were unable to identify how many of these licensees had failed to sign frequency reconfiguration agreements (FRA) as of press time, but Sprint Nextel had projected that 70 of these licensees would fall into this category.

These licensees automatically will enter mediation as part of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) process headed by Joe Markoski of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, the TA's legal firm, said TA Deputy Project Manager Brett Haan.

Haan said “common sense” would play a key role in the ADR process, noting that he does not expect a lengthy procedure in situations in which Sprint Nextel and the licensee are close to an agreement. And Haan emphasized that the TA's original schedule remains in place, despite Sprint Nextel asking for an additional eight months in a November letter to the FCC.

“We'd like to get the message out that the timeline for reconfiguration remains unchanged … until they hear otherwise,” Haan said. “The clock is still ticking for this wave and future waves.”

But the schedule does not work for everyone. Although the TA expressed satisfaction with the development of progress-writing software designed to ensure that rebanding does not interfere with interoperability efforts, licensees have been told that the software will not be available until May, said David “Duff” Barney, branch chief of emergency communications for Fairfax County, Va.

That timetable does not work well for Fairfax County, which already has interoperable communications with several other public-safety entities in the Washington, D.C., area. “This isn't something we hope to do — this is something we're already using on a daily basis,” Barney said. Without the software, radios in Fairfax County and those used by its partners would have to be reprogrammed multiple times to maintain the interoperable functionality enjoyed today, Barney said.

For this reason, Barney said all the interoperable entities have asked that rebanding operations in the region be conducted at the same time — after the software is available — to let interoperability continue while only reprogramming radios once. Multiple reprogramming of radios is “not only logistically challenging and difficult, it's expensive,” he said.

As of press time, the entities had not received a reply, Barney said.

Although Barney would like to see the rebanding process slow down, others are anxious for an accelerated pace. Ed Atkins, director of the department of emergency services for Chester County, Pa., said he requested planning funding on July 20 and has yet to receive word whether it will be granted. A conference call with Sprint Nextel and the TA in late December resulted in another conference call being scheduled for January.

Meanwhile, Chester County has been paying a consultant for six months and has two staff technicians working “damn near full time” on rebanding without receiving any money from Sprint Nextel, Atkins said. Given that the FCC's 800 MHz order was designed to prevent public-safety entities from making such out-of-pocket expenses, it's a situation Chester County cannot endure much longer, he said.

“We're fronting [payment to the consultant and in-house staff] out of the county's general fund right now,” Atkins said. “The point I was making to the TA is that, at some point, that's going to stop. And, if it stops, then it's hard to restart something like that.”

In addition, Atkins said he would not agree to any rebanding contract terms that compromise the performance of his EFJohnson system that handles all dispatch communications for 57 fire departments, 44 police departments and 23 ambulance companies in a county with a population of 463,000.

“We worked very long and very hard to get the system we have today, and it's a superb system,” Atkins said. “I want to make sure that the day after rebanding is done, we still have a superb system.”

WHAT'S NEXT?

Steps in the 800 MHz Alternative Dispute Resolution plan. Time references are from the date of reaching the ADR stage, which was Dec. 27, 2005, for Wave 1 licensees in Channels 1-120.

  1. Within five working days, the Transition Administrator (TA) mediator conducts a conference call with the licensee and Sprint Nextel. Sprint Nextel submits its proposal during this period.

  2. Licensee submits its proposal within 10 working days.

  3. Sprint Nextel may reply to the licensee's proposal within 13 working days.

  4. Mediator has the discretion to let either party amend a proposal or conduct additional conference calls.

  5. If no agreement is reached, mediator prepares a Recommended Resolution within 30 working days.

  6. Sprint Nextel bears burden of proof that facilities are comparable; licensee bears burden of proof regarding the cost of rebanding.

  7. Sprint Nextel and licensee may agree to expedited, non-binding independent arbitration