A report that Sprint Nextel will seek to have the 800 MHz rebanding effort delayed for an extended time period—perhaps as much as two years—because a lack of planning on the part of public safety has raised the concerns within the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO).

“My approach to any delay [proposal] is, ‘How can this positively impact the process?’” APCO President Wanda McCarley said in an interview with MRT. “I think delay for the sake of delay is wrong.

“The grave concern for public safety is that the interference is still out there … and it’s getting worse in some areas. Every day that it’s not done worries me. While we understand that the timetable that’s out there now may be difficult to meet, we’re absolutely committed to working as diligently as we would if that was a hard date, because we absolutely have to get this interference taken care of.”

At issue is a story in yesterday’s Communications Daily that quotes Robert Foosaner, Sprint Nextel’s senior vice president of governmental affairs, as stating that the carrier will ask for an extension of possibly two years in the rebanding timetable, which currently is scheduled to end in 2008. In the story, Foosaner is quoted as saying that public safety “just isn’t ready,” noting that more time is needed for comprehensive planning and that 60% of NPSPAC licensees refuse to negotiate with the carrier.

McCarley said she was not informed that Sprint Nextel would take such a stance and was “perplexed” with the message, as well as the fact that it was delivered through a media outlet.

“What they’re saying is that it’s essentially public safety’s fault,” McCarley said. “I’m very disappointed that they took that approach to dealing with the delays as they stand today, because many of the delays have been in negotiations. And the initial delays in negotiation are having a cooling-off effect on future negotiation, because it’s been so painful, people are reluctant to get into it. For Sprint Nextel to say that public safety just isn’t ready just isn’t true.”

McCarley said she met last week with Sprint Nextel officials, who proposed some revisions to the rebanding process.

“Quite frankly, this is the wrong time to be revising the process, and it would delay completion of this thing probably until 2010, and that’s just too long,” McCarley said.

This afternoon, Sprint Nextel issued a 472-word statement “to clarify” its position. In the statement, Sprint Nextel notes that the “public-safety community and their leadership have been working hard” on rebanding. One difficulty of the process is rebanding regions where public-safety entities have interoperability and mutual-aid agreements that must be maintained throughout the reconfiguration process.

“If public safety systems are not fully coordinated throughout retuning, the result could severely disrupt the very communications capabilities this proceeding is intended to protect,” according to the Sprint Nextel statement. “All of the parties are working very hard, but the process has been more arduous than originally contemplated by all.”

While the statement indicates that Sprint Nextel “maintains its unwavering commitment to the public safety community and to completing 800 MHz reconfiguration,” it does not address whether the carrier believes more time is needed to reband, whether it will ask for any time extensions, or whether rebanding can be completed in the three-year timeframe established by the FCC.

However, in an interview with MRT, Sprint Nextel spokesman Tim O’Regan said the carrier believes more time is needed, particularly to address the issue of maintaining interoperable and mutual-aid communications.

“Sprint Nextel believes it would be prudent for the FCC to re-examine the current timeline,” O’Regan said, noting that the company may not make such a request. “To continue without adequate time for public safety to plan for the reconfiguring of their mutual-aid channels will result in an unacceptable risk of disruption to their reliable communications.”

Virtually everyone involved in the rebanding process has acknowledged that the number of reconfigurations deals signed with public-safety licensees in the 800 MHz band is much smaller than scheduled at this point, particularly after an additional three months was provided for negotiations. Despite this, McCarley said more than 200 NSPAC licensees are expected to enter mandatory mediations at the scheduled conclusion of Wave 1 negotiations at the end of October.

During APCO’s annual conference, TA officials noted that they had not heard from almost half of the NPSPAC licensees in Wave 1, raising concerns whether public-safety officials were engaged in the process. McCarley said the difficulties public-safety entities are having in negotiations with Sprint Nextel is not helping matters.

“The way things have been going in some of these negotiations has been discouraging,” McCarley said. “Even some of the fast-track deals that should have just slid through have been pulled back and questioned.

“I think people on the public-safety side have backed off and said, ‘Wow, I have fought for 8-9 months just to get planning funding. What is it going to be like when I’m actually doing a frequency reconfiguration agreement?’ That’s a little intimidating, that you have to go through that kind of a process just to get the money you need to plan, much less looking ahead to the fact that you have an entire system to reconfigure.”

McCarley said it may be time for all parties involved in rebanding to “sit down around the table again and make a concerted effort to deal with the issues” rather than seeking to delay the effort.

One way to accelerate the process would be for Sprint Nextel to release NPSPAC licensees from the nondisclosure agreements that prevent public-safety entities from learning from each other, McCarley said.

“Public safety has always helped each other through consulting with peers in the industry to get the background that they need to go forward with something that they’re planning and, to a great degree, they’ve been prohibited from doing that,” McCarley said. “We’ve said several times that doing away with those nondisclosure agreements would make this process go much faster.”

The Transition Administrator today issued a statement that the rebanding schedule has not been altered, so any Wave 1 NPSPAC licensees without a reconfiguration agreement by Oct. 31 will enter mediation.

“To date, the ADR [alternative dispute resolution] process has been successful at resolving disagreements, with only 8 cases pending for FCC review out of over 470 mediation cases to date,” according to the TA statement. “We strongly encourage licensees to prepare for mediation by building supportable cost estimates and leveraging resources available from the TA ADR webinar and the ADR plan on our website at www.800TA.org.”