Considerable progress has been achieved over the last month or so regarding reconfiguration. This progress has included new guidance for planning-funding agreements and greater success in finalizing frequency reconfiguration agreements during the Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR, period for Wave 1, Stage 1 licensees. The map on page 44 shows the significant number of frequency reconfiguration agreements signed as of mid-February.

Of course there have been bumps along the way, and all parties can point to things that could have gone better. But although we all need to be doing more, the good news is that improvements have been made, and agreements are getting done. The FCC's renewed attention to this matter has benefited all, and I emphasize that Sprint Nextel cannot do this alone — we need the support and collaboration of all parties every step of the way.

I do want to point out the significance of our planning-funding agreement with the Utah Communications Agency Network (UCAN). This agreement, representing a large public-safety network operating in a complex spectrum environment, serves as a model for other licensees to follow.

Despite perceptions to the contrary — and the fact that Wave 1 has the toughest workload and has proceeded under a “trailblazing” atmosphere — we are getting things done. Here at Sprint Nextel, we have more than 100 employees dedicated to the reconfiguration effort and we won't rest until it's done.

Before sharing some thoughts on completing planning-funding agreements, I want to focus on the status of frequency reconfiguration agreements for a moment.

As of mid-February, Sprint Nextel has established initial contact with more than 98% of the Phase 1 licensees participating in Waves 1-3. We have reached agreements with more than 58% of these licensees. More than 95% of Wave 1 commercial wireless licensees have signed frequency reconfiguration agreements.

In late December 2005, negotiations with a number of Wave 1, Stage 1 licensees entered into ADR, administered by a TA mediator. The FCC's reconfiguration order anticipated this occurrence and created this step to ensure final agreements as part of the stated timeframe. I'm pleased to report that at this time, the vast majority of these agreements have been wrapped up as a result of the ADR process.

Mandatory negotiations with Wave 2, Stage 1 licensees are moving forward. We've made significant progress in Wave 2, and many licensees already have completed agreements. We also have initiated voluntary negotiations with Wave 3 licensees.

On February 1, the TA started the negotiation period for NPSPAC systems in the Wave 1 markets. This wave contains more than 400 licensees, many of them with large, complex systems in major metropolitan areas. The front-loading of public safety in this phase concerns all of us and will require a great deal of flexibility from all parties. We are actively engaged with the TA, the FCC and public-safety leadership to identify any needed changes to the timeline and process for NPSPAC licensees to help all of us get Wave 1 reconfiguration done.

There have been some delays because of confusion regarding planning-funding agreements — a funding mechanism for extended planning activities required for complex public-safety systems. Although the effort to seek these agreements has generated much frustration, only 8% of all Wave 1 licensees have requested planning funding. However, the TA has completed a template for planning funding that will be of great assistance to public-safety entities as they complete agreements.

While the planning process has been difficult, I'm optimistic that recent changes will improve it significantly (see story on page 6). I'm also happy to report that most of the pending planning-funding agreements are at or near approval. Of the 54 total we received, 17 have been rolled into frequency reconfiguration agreements that included planning funding, another 15 are close to approval and the remaining 22 are in active negotiation or mediation. Under the new rules, 12 more planning-funding agreements have been sent to the TA for review. Keep in mind these numbers are constantly changing, and the prior figures represent one snapshot from the month of February.

I have been very focused in this column on the facts and figures surrounding the frequency reconfiguration agreement and planning-funding agreement process, and now I want to reinforce that most licensees, and most vendors are doing the right thing. They are working hard, collaborating with Sprint Nextel, submitting reasonable cost estimates and moving the process forward.

We understand that this task can be intimidating and we're all new at this. We know that public-safety systems are different than commercial systems; consequently, different procedures and considerations sometimes apply. At the same time, we must carry out FCC direction to complete reconfiguration efficiently at the minimum necessary cost. Let's all work together and build on our experiences to date to keep moving the task forward.

No matter how much work or time it takes, licensees can be assured that Sprint Nextel will remain committed to taking all the necessary steps to implementing reconfiguration as efficiently and effectively as possible. We understand the unique role Sprint Nextel plays in this process and the enormous responsibility we undertook upon agreeing to complete reconfiguration.

Reconfiguration must be done correctly, and we need licensees' full understanding and involvement for that to happen. Our bottom line is eliminating 800 MHz interference to first responders' radios, so they have clear communications to do their jobs, protect our country and make our communities safer. Sprint Nextel is committed to this goal.

Sandy Edwards is vice president of spectrum resources for Sprint Nextel.

The objective of PFAs is to secure funds for public safety to cover extensive planning activities such as system inventory, engineering planning, and implementation planning, as well as legal counsel and project management of the planning and negotiation phases. Licensees should be mindful of the following in order to ensure the most expedient review of their PFA requests:

  1. Licensees' greatest resource is the TA's template, which can be found at: http://www.800ta.org/content/documents/rfpf_forms.asp.
  2. Public safety must verify that all costs submitted are reasonable. Even if you rely on an outside consultant for estimates, you must review all numbers with the same level of scrutiny as if the money were coming out of your own budget.
  3. While planning their PFAs, licensees should talk to us should they have questions. They always can contact us at: 800MHz@Sprint.com. Knowing ahead of time that certain costs are not covered will speed the approval process by the TA and Sprint Nextel. Simply put, reasonable costs are defined as costs to plan relocation to comparable facilities.
  4. Sprint Nextel is not second-guessing your internal rates for employee time. In nearly all instances, we have approved these as submitted.
  5. When completing inventories, make certain that you specify one person as the project manager.

Source: Sprint Nextel