ORLANDO--An FCC order issued in September designed to accelerate the reconfiguration of 800 MHz airwaves, a project that is well behind schedule, not only is causing headaches for all involved but is having exactly the opposite effect, according to panelists speaking today at the IWCE-MRT Wireless Summit.

Bill Jenkins, vice president of Sprint Nextel, which is appealing the order in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said the primary issue is the requirement that forces Sprint Nextel to vacate channels below 862 MHz by June 26 of next year, even if public-safety licensees are not in a position to move to those channels.

“We feel that vacating these channels before public safety is ready, these channels will be laying fallow and we will not be using these channels in our network. And by not following the process that was set out in the original [report and order], our network would be degraded [as would] the service we will be providing to our customers—which includes approximately 3 million public-safety users,” Jenkins said. “Our network will be degraded in a way that was not expected when we accepted the original R&O.”

Alan Tilles, an attorney with Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker who represents numerous 800 MHz licensees, agreed that forcing public-safety users to give up their Sprint Nextel handsets under this scenario makes little sense. He used Orange County, Fla., as an example, where more than 1000 public-safety personnel subscribe to Nextel’s push-to-talk service, according to one audience member.

“For most of you, the knee-jerk reaction to what Bill just said is, ‘Why should I care?’” Tilles said. “But you should care. … To just wholesale say, ‘Hey, we’re not ready to reband, but get off those channels,’ and cripple their network, I don’t think is a good idea for public safety. For that reason, everyone in this room should care about that portion of the FCC’s order.”

In the meantime, Jenkins said Sprint Nextel is committed to turning over channels as soon as licensees are ready to use them, and is taking steps in case the DC Circuit dismisses the lawsuit.

“We are working very strongly to make that network as robust as possible,” he said. “We have had to reinvigorate our use of 900 [MHz spectrum]. We had always planned to use 900, but this is putting a bigger demand on our use of 900. It’s not going to solve the problem, but it is going to—as we expected from the beginning—relieve some of the hardship.”

The order also has caused angst for vendors and licensees, according to panelists.

Andy Maxymillian, senior consultant for Blue Wing Services who also represents 800 MHz licensees, said the new deadlines set by the FCC’s September order effectively stopped rebanding work for his clients. “The reaction from the clients that we’re working with has not been to accelerate the work that they’re doing. In fact, in a lot of cases, it has been just the opposite,” he said. “The Oct. 15 deadline was the big example, where licensees were required to complete planning by [that date]. In almost every case in our client base, there wasn’t an acceleration to speed up to meet that date, there was a pause … to write up requests for extensions or waivers.”

On the vendor side, Chuck Jackson, vice president with Motorola, expressed concern regarding the compressed timelines. “This is affecting our relationships with some of our customers,” he said. “We have some customers who are saying, ‘We don’t care, we’re going to make our rebanding dates—period.’ When 350 people are saying the same thing, we don’t have the resources.”

Jackson said that Motorola so far is keeping up with the production of equipment needed for the reconfiguration, but demand so far has been light, which raises significant concerns for the future.

“Right now it hasn’t been a problem, but our concern is when 25% of the volume gets dropped on us and they all want it done the same month. We won’t be able to do that.”