Efforts to reband 800 MHz public-safety licensees continue to progress in non-border areas, but several challenges have arisen in border regions that are creating delays — most notably, the very real possibility that licensees along the Mexican border will not be able to get started on the project until 2011.

During yesterday’s session on rebanding at IWCE, panelists noted continued progress toward the completion of rebanding in non-border areas, where only a “modest number” of licensees are still negotiating agreements with Sprint Nextel, said Robert Kelly, an attorney for the Transition Administrator (TA). In addition, FCC attorney Roberto Mussenden said a band plan for Puerto Rico should be released within “a couple of weeks.”

Along the Canadian and Mexican borders, the news is not as encouraging. A band plan exists for the U.S.–Canada border, and some licensees have signed rebanding agreements with Sprint Nextel. However, in some cases, rebanding work has been halted, because the TA has not approved the deals as issues continue to be addressed between the two countries.

Such hiccups certainly can be frustrating, but 800 MHz licensees along the Canadian border are in a significantly better position than their counterparts in the U.S.–Mexico border area, where no band-plan treaty exists, meaning licensees cannot even get started.

Ultimately the responsibility of the countries’ respective state departments, FCC officials have indicated encouraging progress in U.S.–Mexico rebanding negotiations at trade shows for the past few years. This year, Mussenden reiterated that officials for the countries continue to meet and that subject “has not fallen off our radar, believe me,” but declined to speculate when a deal might be reached.

“It is often one item during the meetings that take place on a regular basis — sometimes not as frequently as we would like, but they remain engaged with it,” Mussenden said. “I would love to give you a date certain, but it wouldn’t even be a swag.”

However, Mussenden and other FCC representatives said it would take two months for the agency to produce an order after the U.S. and Mexico agree on a band plan. Meanwhile, TA representatives estimated it would take an additional six months to make frequency assignments.

That means eight months likely will pass before licensees along the Mexican border can begin negotiations with Sprint Nextel after a band plan is in place. Unless a band plan is agreed upon during the next six weeks — and Mussenden’s statements certainly provide no indication that is going to happen — these licensees will not be starting the process until at least 2011.

This is problematic, because rebanding was approved six years ago and had been discussed for at least a year before that. During this time, licensees were encouraged not to make additions or upgrades to their systems until rebanding was completed.

If rebanding was finished in the three-year time frame initially proposed by the FCC, holding off on upgrades to 800 MHz systems would have been workable. But licensees along the Mexican border have been waiting seven years just to start rebanding, so the need to get a band plan in place is becoming increasingly important, so aging equipment in these systems can be replaced in the most efficient manner possible.

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