Public-safety agencies depending on LMR communications systems operating on T-Band spectrum should experience “no loss of service—no loss of continuity” as a result of a federal mandate that requires public-safety licensees to clear the airwaves in five years, an FCC official said today in testimony before Congress.

Congress included the mandate that public-safety licensees clear the T-Band frequencies (470-512 MHz) in the UHF band as part of the legislation that reallocated D Block spectrum to public safety and established FirstNet as the entity to oversee the deployment and operation of a nationwide public-safety broadband network, so the spectrum can be auctioned. T-Band LMR systems exist in 11 metropolitan areas, including many of the largest cellular markets in the nation.

David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s public-safety and homeland-security bureau, addressed the FCC’s goals related to the T-Band transition in response to questions from Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.) about the subject.

“The statute specifically gives us a long timeline to deal with the T-Band issue,” Furth said during the hearing, which was webcast. “The initial deadline to reallocate spectrum and begin the auction—not the relocation process but simply the beginning of the process of setting up an auction—is 2021, so that is still five years away.

“Nonetheless, we are very cognizant of the situation that T-Band licensees are in, and … we want to make very sure that there is no loss of service—no loss of continuity—in whatever transition mechanism there is to ensure that the citizens of those 11 markets, those 11 communities, are not left without public-safety service as a result of that transition.”

Under the law, the FCC is required to “begin a system of competitive bidding” for the T-Band spectrum currently licensed to public-safety entities by March 2021. Public-safety licensees operating communications systems in the T-Band must relocate within two years after the auction process is completed, according to the statute. The law also stipulates that relocation of the public-safety systems will be funded with proceeds from the auction.

After the law was passed in 2012, the FCC ruled that public-safety T-Band systems would not be required to fulfill the narrowbanding obligations were a mandate to other LMR radio systems operating in the UHF band.

Although the law indicates that the public-safety T-Band systems must be relocated as early as 2023, there has been considerable debate within the industry whether it is politically and economically practical to do so.

Under the law, the public-safety LMR systems would need to be relocated, but there is no available public-safety narrowband spectrum in most of the large markets—a reality that caused the T-Band spectrum to be used in the first place.