Negotiations concerning the rebanding of 800 MHz licensees are behind schedule, prompting the Transition Administrator to issue new guidelines and Sprint Nextel to ask the FCC for more time.

Only 30% of Wave 1 licensees operating in the Channel 1-120 frequencies had reached an agreement with Sprint Nextel that had been approved by the TA as of Oct. 28, according to the TA's quarterly report released in November.

“It appears at this time that a significant number of Wave 1 licensees will not have completed negotiations with Sprint Nextel and executed a [frequency reconfiguration agreement] as of the end of the mandatory negotiation period,” the report states. “Sprint Nextel estimated to the TA that as many as 50 public-safety licensees, plus some additional number of non-public-safety licensees, will not have entered into an FRA by the end of the mandatory negotiation period on December 26, 2005.”

TA Deputy Program Manager Brett Haan said the pace of rebanding negotiations is a “significant issue” and that there have been “some lessons learned” during the early stages of the process. Although the status of negotiations with Channel 1-120 operators — licensees that must be cleared to facilitate rebanding — was problematic, Haan also expressed concern that only one request for planning funding (RFPF) had been approved, none from any of the more complex systems in the band.

In an effort to help accelerate the processing of RFPFs — believed by most observers to be a crucial element in the timely relocation of licensees with complex systems, particularly public-safety users — the TA changed its policies in late October, Haan said.

“After several licensees expressed a dissatisfaction with the process … [we asked] that licensees do concurrently inform the TA when they have submitted an RFPF to Sprint Nextel, so we can track and monitor them,” he said.

In addition, the TA released an RFPF package in November that includes detailed instructions for seeking planning funding, a template for licensees to use and two sample completed applications — one for small systems and another for a large/medium systems.

While such resources represent an effort to create efficiencies in rebanding negotiations, Haan said the TA also is trying to address the individual needs of 800 MHz licensees.

“These mission-critical enterprises are too important, too dynamic and sometimes too unique to have just a one-size-fits-all mentality,” he said.

Haan specifically noted work the TA has made to accommodate the wishes of public-safety licensees in the Washington area. In addition, the quarterly report noted that Louisiana licensees had been moved from Wave 2 to Wave 3 to give them more time to focus on Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

Earlier, the TA released guidelines detailing which internal labor costs and educational expenses could be paid by Sprint Nextel. Those guidelines also acknowledged that the TA can be flexible when considering “transactional costs” — most notably, attorney fees — that exceed the normal 2% threshold of a project.

But Sprint Nextel said the TA guidelines and an FCC order issued in October significantly changed the negotiation environment — so much so that the wireless carrier asked the FCC to restart the rebanding “clock” in a manner that represents at least a seven-month delay from the original schedule. as of press time, the FCC and TA had not responded to the request.

A question that remains unanswered is whether Sprint Nextel should pay for “drive tests” to determine 800 MHz systems' signal strength and whether they are encountering interference.

Billy Carter, Region 54 chairman and APCO coordinator for Northern Illinois, said he believes such tests are critical to determine whether rebanding has resulted in licensees receiving the “comparable facilities” called for in the FCC's order.

“You have to know where you're starting, so you need to do a pre-[rebanding] drive test,” Carter said. “I think the post drive test should be done after the wave is completed. And you have to do it more than once to prove it's repeatable.”

Status of reconfiguration for licensees in channels 1-120 as of October 28
(achieved milestones by number of frequency reconfiguration agreements)
Anticipated FRAs Sprint Nextel initiated contact with licensee Sprint Nextel and licensee reach verbal agreement FRAs submitted to TA FRAs approved by TA
Wave 1 383 373 207 115 106
Wave 2 230 216 94 61 58
Wave 3 301 69 21 8 8
Wave 4 158 35 12 4 4
Undetermined 23 15 3 0 0
Total 1095 708 337 188 176
Source: Transition Administrator and Sprint Nextel