The FCC originally had on its Oct. 15 agenda a vote on how to make available to public-safety applicants the interleaved (854-860 MHz) spectrum that Sprint Nextel is giving up in rebanding. Note that this is not a decision on “white space” in the new NPSPAC band. However, the item was subsequently removed from the FCC's meeting agenda. It now is expected that the commission will issue the Order after voting via circulation.

Based on a meeting that we attended at the FCC's offices in Gettysburg, Pa., Sprint Nextel currently is slated to make the first 20 frequency pairs above 854 MHz available in non-border areas.

Unless the FCC changes something, these channels will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis (with no regional planning committee involvement in the process) for public-safety applicants in non-border areas. So, whoever files at 12:01 a.m. on the applicable date is first in line with that particular frequency coordinator, and then of course it depends on the speed of service of your favorite frequency coordinator vis-à-vis the other coordinators. We were hoping to avoid some sort of race for these channels. Unfortunately, it appears that the FCC was unable or unwilling to forge a compromise between a mad dash and a methodical planning process that would have delayed licensing by years.

Originally, we were informed that the FCC intended to permit a single applicant to apply for all 20 channels. However, we are hoping that this will change. As it is unlikely that a single applicant could use all 20 contiguous channels (if for no other reason than for combiner reasons, as most public-safety licensees don't use hybrid combiners), it would seem prudent to provide some initial limitations so that more applicants can find some level of spectrum relief.

Remember, these channels are not universally available nationwide. Rather, they are available where Sprint Nextel had a footprint on that channel, and where there is not an incumbent, non-Nextel licensee. So, in upper Wisconsin these first 20 channels will probably be available all over, but in Florida the availability will be more limited because of the state of Florida system on a number of these first 20 channels.

In related news, the FCC finally has made a decision regarding the 900 MHz business and industrial pool channels. The commission has changed its original proposal and elected not to auction this spectrum. This spectrum has been frozen with regard to new licensing since September 2004 while the FCC contemplated future licensing in the band. Now the freeze will be lifted six months after 800 MHz rebanding has been completed in a particular NPSPAC region.

In sum, the FCC will retain site-based licensing for the 900 MHz B/ILT frequencies. Most importantly, the FCC established interference protection rules for 900 MHz B/ILT frequencies similar to the 800 MHz interference rules adopted in the rebanding proceeding. Specifically, 900 MHz B/ILT licensees will be entitled to interference protection for portable/handheld units with a minimum desired signal strength of -85 dBm (-88 dBm for mobile/vehicular units). Interference will be presumed to occur where a voice transceiver is receiving an undesired signal or signals that cause the measured carrier-to-noise plus interference to the transceiver to be less than 17 dB.

Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.