Public-safety licensees participating in 800 MHz rebanding negotiations will be allowed to share cost estimates and relocation procedures with each other while ignoring nondisclosure agreement (NDA) language advocated by Sprint Nextel during the process, the FCC said in an order released yesterday.

For months, Sprint Nextel has expressed frustration with estimates from some public-safety licensees and their consultants that the carrier believes— after comparing them to quotes from other licensees—are higher than necessary. Meanwhile, public-safety licensees have argued that NDA obligations—included at Sprint’s insistence, according to the order—have prevented them from checking with each other to determine whether costs estimates are in line with other quotes.

The FCC sided with public safety.

“We find that the continued application of the NDA language to prevent public-safety licensees from disclosing information to one another about the terms and conditions of individual PFAs [planning funding agreements] and FRAs [final reconfiguration agreements] negotiated with Sprint impedes the good-faith obligations the commission imposed upon both Sprint and incumbent licensees,” the FCC states in the order, written by David Furth, associate bureau chief for the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau.

Public-safety licensees no longer have to comply with NDA language, even if they have signed agreements with Sprint Nextel obligating them to do so, because the NDA agreements include a clause that takes into account legal changes such as the FCC order. Removal of the NDA obligations does not extend to non-public-safety licensees, most of which have completed negotiations as part of the first phase of rebanding.

In the order, the FCC stated that the purpose of removing the NDA obligations is to “streamline” rebanding negotiations, which already are several months behind the original schedule established by the 800 MHz Transition Administrator. Sprint Nextel expressed its hopes that the order will have the desired impact.

"Sprint Nextel fully supports the action taken today by the FCC to remove a perceived obstacle to negotiating and signing Phase II reconfiguration agreements,” the company said in a statement. “Now that public safety has the transparency it asked for, Sprint Nextel hopes that all incumbents and their consultants will negotiate with us in good faith consistent with the commission's minimum reasonable cost requirements."

Such an expectation is realistic, said Wanda McCarley, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials.

“One of my concerns has been that the nondisclosure agreements prevented some logical benchmarks for public-safety agencies, in terms of knowing when the proposals that they were seeing were out of line or if something was amiss,” McCarley said in an interview with MRT. “I think public-safety agencies will be very pleased [with the FCC order] and that it will expedite the process.”