Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes; how do you measure, measure a year?

The above lyric is from the musical “Rent” and a poignant reminder of what 2005 has meant for this torturous process we call rebanding.

The rebanding of 800 MHz airwaves is not proceeding as quickly as planned. Although some wish to ascribe motives to the lack of expected progress, the delays actually represent a convergence of factors that have impeded the process.

On Nov. 10, the Transition Administrator (TA) released its Quarterly Report. As of Oct. 28, Sprint Nextel had reached an oral agreement with 207 of the 383 licensees in the first wave, or 54%. Of the 207, 115 have been submitted to the TA for approval. By the time you read this, the mandatory negotiation period for Wave 1, Phase 1 (i.e., General Category licensees) will have closed. Although it can be expected that a good portion of the 176 remaining licensees will have reached agreement with Sprint Nextel between Oct. 28 and Dec. 26, at least a portion of the remaining licensees will have their cases submitted to the TA for mediation.

The real problem with mediation is that it further delays rebanding for the licensees that are not yet involved in mediation. How is this so? For every General Category frequency that is not moved in a timely manner to the middle part of the band, there are three NPSPAC frequencies that also cannot be moved in a timely manner. The impact is so great because current General Category channels are spaced at 25 kHz, while NPSPAC frequencies are spaced at 12.5 kHz. Thus, there is an impact on the exact center frequencies, as well as the adjacent channel on each side.

This means that every mediation has the potential of delaying the elimination of interference for some public-safety agency stuck between Sprint Nextel and Cellular A frequencies.

Thus, we need to increase the speed at which negotiations happen. It's important that licensees remain firm on issues vital to ensuring that they receive comparable facilities without any expense to the licensee. But, at the same time, licensees must stop asking for the moon. Here's what I believe must happen for this process to continue in an expedited manner:

  • Negotiations must be completed on replacement equipment, recoverability of tracking software, post-rebanding testing and prices paid for work performed by radio dealers for their own systems versus their work reprogramming systems licensed to others.

  • Consultants must stop overselling recoverable costs. I don't mean items that are close to the line, but those items that are clearly non-recoverable.

  • Consultants must stop overselling their capabilities. People that have never heard the word “land mobile” before have become experts in rebanding.

  • Licensees must be more cooperative. There are too many licensees that refuse to devote an hour to working on this.

  • On the other hand, Sprint Nextel must recognize that these same licensees are not in the business of waiting around to do rebanding work (nor were they given any incentive to do it more quickly than the deadlines set by the TA). Licensees don't have personnel who can drop their responsibilities and work on rebanding.

As I was writing this, Nextel filed a pleading with the FCC mentioning a number of the items listed above. The filing requests the FCC restart the rebanding clock, beginning at 60 days after the publication of the most recent Report & Order (from early October) in the Federal Register. This order changed the rebanding landscape quite a bit, particularly with regard to which licensees (other than Nextel) get to move above 862 MHz, and which licensees presently above 862 MHz must move below.

It is unclear as to what this delay would mean. What dates would be moved back? And how long will it be until the FCC acts on the request? In short, licensees should not count on any delays and proceed expeditiously.

How do you measure a year? It's measured by timely completion of 383 rebanding agreements. And we're all responsible for making that happen.


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.