FCC commissioners recently ruled that Sprint Nextel must pay an additional $500,000 in 800 MHz rebanding costs to replace 262 mobile radios for Tazewell County, Ill., to ensure that the county maintains its ability to access all NPSPAC channels, including those for which it is not licensed to use.

Tazewell County contended that the FCC’s rebanding order requires Sprint Nextel to replace the county’s mobile radios operating on its EDACs system, because the radios could not be reprogrammed to maintain the ability to access all NPSPAC channels—a capability the county’s radios currently have. Sprint Nextel claimed that it only should have to pay for reprogramming the radios to access the five NPSPAC mutual-aid channels, because Tazewell County is not licensed to use other NPSPAC frequencies.

A Transition Administrator (TA) mediator issued a recommendation in favor of Sprint Nextel, but the FCC ruled differently. Even though Tazewell County is not licensed to operate on non-mutual-aid NPSPAC channels, the county’s current radios have the ability to use those channels currently. To meet the FCC’s “comparable facilities” standard, Sprint Nextel must pay—an additional $500,000, in this case—to ensure that the county maintain this ability when rebanding is complete, according to the order.

“The characteristics of the [comparable] system are ‘defined functionally from the end user’s point of view,’ and include … ‘all mobile units,’” the FCC order states. “Thus, applying this standard to the county’s system, Sprint’s obligation to provide comparable facilities requires it to provide mobile radios that are technically and operationally comparable to the licensee’s existing radios.”

The FCC’s ruling in the Tazewell County case has been much anticipated, as the same issue has been disputed in several rebanding negotiations. Alan Tilles, who represented Tazewell County in the case, said he knows of at least five rebanding cases in which the issue was in dispute, with the dispute being the only significant roadblock to final rebanding agreements in three of the cases.

“We are extremely pleased that the commission agreed with Tazewell’s position that the licensee must have the same capability before and after rebanding—regardless whether they’re presently using that capability,” Tilles said.