Just days before Channel 1-120 border-area licensees in Wave 4 of the 800 MHz rebanding project were scheduled to enter mediation, the FCC announced a 90-day extension of the mandatory negotiating period for the licensees and Sprint Nextel.

At issue is the fact that the U.S. State Department has not reached treaty agreements with Canada and Mexico outlining the configuration of the 800 MHz spectrum after rebanding is completed. Until such negotiations are completed, border-area licensees cannot be assigned new frequencies.

“In the absence of new frequency designations, these licensees cannot fully plan for rebanding or complete their negotiation of FRAs with Sprint,” the FCC’s Dec. 27 announcement stated. “Therefore, there is no practical purpose in requiring such licensees to enter mediation under the current schedule.”

Given this situation, all sources close to the rebanding effort had anticipated some sort of extension being granted. Public-safety officials have been assured that the state department views the matter as a priority and is actively trying to negotiate treaty agreements, said Wanda McCarley, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

In November, the state department reached a treaty agreement with Mexico on frequencies in the adjacent 700 MHz band, but that success does not mean that a similar deal in the 800 MHz band is imminent, said Alan Tilles, who represents many rebanding licensees as a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker.

“I would think not, because of the way the allocation was done,” he said. “[In the 700 MHz band,] they were not dealing with any of the issues we’re dealing with at 800 MHz.”

Most licensees affected by the border issues were placed in Wave 4 to give the government as much time as possible to reach treaty agreements. However, not all Wave 4 licensees are in border areas, so they have been given new frequency assignments. These licensees are expected to meet the existing timetable, which calls for them to enter mediation today if they lack a reconfiguration agreement with Sprint Nextel.

For border-area Wave 4 licensees operating in Channels 1-120, the mediation period is now scheduled to begin on April 3, 2007.