One year after the official beginning of the 800 MHz rebanding process, the FCC and the Transition Administrator have announced a series of measures designed primarily to help public-safety licensees in the band reconfigure their systems.

Public-safety entities face myriad issues that can complicate the rebanding process, including restrictive procurement procedures, multiplayer approval processes and the need to maintain interoperability agreements during the transition. To tackle these and other issues, public-safety officials repeatedly have requested additional time and money upfront to establish plans to ensure rebanding is done as smoothly as possible.

With this in mind, the FCC approved a TA proposal to extend the mandatory negotiation period for Wave 1 NPSPAC licensees by three months, to Oct. 31. For those licensees seeking upfront money, the TA last month released guidelines detailing the new “fast track” option for securing planning funding that streamlines the request process for qualified entities.

In addition to the $55-per-subscriber-unit maximum announced during IWCE 2006 in May, the TA stipulated that no more than 8% of the planning funds could be used for legal costs, and no more than 25% could pay for project management. If these criteria are met, Sprint Nextel automatically will approve the request.

TA officials have expressed hope that 40% of licensees requesting planning funding would be able to pursue the fast-track option. But Alan Tilles, who represents many public-safety entities in rebanding negotiations as a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, said he has yet to see a planning-funding request meet the $55-per-subsciber-unit threshold, even among smaller systems. He also questioned the legal costs stipulation.

“Unfortunately, the size of the legal fee has little to do with the size of the reband,” Tilles said, noting that his clients that might meet the fast-track threshold have not needed planning funding. “Legal fees are directly proportional to the cooperation of the licensee, Nextel, the TA and consultants in the rebanding process. I have seen very small deals with very large legal fees, and very large deals with very small legal fees.”

But TA Director Brett Haan said he believes the criteria are appropriate, noting that the percentages “were derived from analysis of real Planning Funding Agreements (PFAs) between licensees and Sprint Nextel.

Status of reconfiguration for licensees in Channels 1-120 as of June 21 (achieved milestones by number of FRAs)
Wave # of channels 1-120 FRAs FRAs Submitted to TA FRAs Approved by TA % of FRAs approved by TA
Wave 1 354 342 340 96.05%
Wave 2 207 199 197 95.17%
Wave 3 300 73 69 23.00%
Wave 4 150 24 24 16.00%
Wave* 34 0 0 0.00%
Total** 1045 638 630 60.29%
*Deals which have no call signs associated with them. The proper re-banding Wave category will be determined upon the TA receiving the associated call sign assets or the FRA. /// ** The change in number of FRAs from March 31st data is a result of Nextel adding, deleting and consolidating deals.
Source: Transition Authority.

Motorola is hopeful that the fast-track funding option accelerates the rebanding process, as the vendor giant continues to wait for its first radio order in association with rebanding, said Chuck Jackson, Motorola's vice president and director of system operations.

“We've generated for customers over 284 planning-funding quotes, and only 24 have made it through the process,” he said. “Most of the time is being taken up by negotiations and approval at the TA. Things really aren't moving very fast.”

However, in its quarterly report to the FCC last month, the TA noted significant rebanding progress in several areas, most notably in the number of reconfiguration agreements signed by Channel 1-120 licensees that must be cleared to make room for NPSPAC licensees (see table below).

On an encouraging note, the TA said in the report that Wave 3 — where the existence of SouthernLINC creates additional complications — likely will see more mediations than were necessary during Wave 2. In addition, the report stated that some vendors' failure to provide enough planning resources has resulted in “several” delays and an attempt to propose “one size fits all” planning services for very different systems.

“Unnecessary activities or costs only slow negotiations and TA reviews; in fact, most disputes between parties during negotiations are not over incumbent costs but rather vendor costs,” according to the report.

But Motorola's Jackson said he doesn't believe his company is causing the rebanding delays.

“We're kind of sitting here going, ‘We've been kind of staffed up, we're ready to go to work, and we've generated all these quotes, and only 10% have gone through,’” Jackson said. “So we were a little bit surprised at the comments. … Of course, maybe they weren't talking about us.”