Frequency coordinators can begin reserving a place in line as early as next week for public-safety entities planning to file applications for 800 MHz interleaved channels cleared by Sprint Nextel, according to a public notice released by the FCC last week.

Released almost two months after the FCC issued rules outlining the procedure Sprint Nextel will use to relinquish the interleaved spectrum as part of the 800 MHz rebanding effort, the public notice calls for the FCC to begin accepting applications from public-safety users—the only group eligible to apply for the frequencies during the next three years—on Jan. 28.

The spectrum will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. In an attempt to avoid conflicts, frequency coordinators can notify other frequency coordinators of the applications they plan to file beginning next Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 8 a.m. Eastern time. If conflicts arise between this time and the Jan. 28 deadline, the frequency coordinators are expected to resolve the conflict before submitting applications to the FCC on Jan. 28.

Under the Oct. 30 order, Sprint Nextel is required to make the 809-809.5/854-854.5 MHz spectrum available in all non-border areas of the U.S. within 60 days of a public-safety entity requesting the spectrum after receiving a license for it. These 20 channels are available nationwide, as the carrier already has voluntarily cleared the spectrum, according to FCC spokesman Rob Kenny.

Public-safety applicants can apply for a maximum of five channels, a stipulation advocated by the Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA) and its lawyer, Alan Tilles a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker. Without such a limitation, Tilles said he was worried that an applicant might try to claim all 20 channels in an area, even though most public-safety agencies lack the technical gear necessary to use so many contiguous frequencies.

“My point was that, as an applicant, you can’t use all 20 [channels] anyway, so why let them apply for 20 and keep channels away from other applicants in the area?” Tilles said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “I just wanted to maximize the number of applicants that could potentially use the channels.”

If granted a license by the FCC, a public-safety entity typically would be required to begin using the assigned frequencies within a year. Applicants may file applications requesting extended implementation—giving the licensee five years to use its new channels—but such applications will be “subject to a high level of scrutiny and will not be routinely granted,” according to the FCC’s public notice.

“The basic idea is that the public-safety applicant can’t use extended implementation to tie up channels for a lengthy period of time that other public-safety entities could use more quickly,” Kenny said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “Given the limited number of channels that are going to be available to public safety in the first wave, we wanted to make sure that we look at those requests very closely.”

For the most part, the usage requirements are not expected to be difficult for public-safety licensees to meet. Industry sources anticipate that most applicants plan to simply add the channels to their existing systems.

Meanwhile, additional spectrum will be made available as various rebanding thresholds are met. For example, 1 MHz of paired spectrum will be made available when 25% of NPSPAC licensees in a region have moved their primary operations to new channels. Other frequencies will be made available as 50%, 75%, 90% and 100% of the channels in a geographic region are rebanded. By March 31, 2010, Sprint Nextel must vacate all of its interleaved spectrum in non-border areas.

To let public-safety agencies know what channels are available, the FCC has established an online search engine that details the inventory of cleared interleaved spectrum.