‘The amount of the notice will be uncomfortably brief.’
About five years ago, the FCC froze license applications for new exclusive private radio systems in the 470MHz-512MHz band to give it time to “refarm” the spectrum. Refarming is a change of technical, operating and licensing requirements intended to fit more users into a given portion of spectrum.
In 1995, the FCC issued new rules in the refarming proceeding and announced that it would lift the freeze.
Shortly thereafter, it delayed lifting the freeze when the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) asked for time to recommend procedures for coordinating applications and for avoiding interference among the new and existing systems. LMCC wanted to avoid the prospect of conflicting applications being filed with different coordinators and then being forwarded to the FCC. The FCC might use auctions to resolve mutually exclusive applications, something most private radio users want to avoid.
On Sept. 10, 1997, LMCC sent its plan to the commission. In response, the FCC announced that it would lift the freeze on Oct. 17. Since Oct. 1, license seekers have been permitted to submit applications to frequency coordinators, and the coordinators now communicate with each other about conflicting applications. Regardless of which coordinator receives an application to use a given frequency in a given location, the first such application received is the one to be forwarded to the commission.
Then, on Oct. 7, in a move that surprised an audience to whom he spoke at the Industrial Telecommunications Association conference in Washington, an FCC official announced that the freeze may not be lifted after all.
The reason seems to be a combination of factors.
For one thing, several petitions for reconsideration sent to the FCC in the refarming matter haven’t yet been answered. Maybe, all by itself, the question of these petitions wouldn’t have led to a continuation of the freeze. But there is some concern that one or more of the petitions might be resolved in a way that would require the FCC to modify or rescind some of the licenses granted after Oct. 17.
For another thing, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials_International (APCO), which represents police and fire departments, filed an “emergency petition for clarification” with the FCC on Oct. 1, pointing out a possible problem: Business and industrial users might apply for licenses to use full-power radio systems on channels separated as little as 12.5kHz from existing public safety systems. Too close, says APCO. And APCO thinks the FCC hasn’t made it clear whether such assignments would be allowed.
Although careful frequency coordination might and should avoid interference from the 12.5kHz offset channels, APCO wants to be sure. It wants offset channels adjacent to existing public safety systems to be reserved for future public safety applicants only.
Complicating things even more, the 1997 federal Balanced Budget Act contains two definitions of “public safety services.” One falls in line with APCO’s traditional “guns and hoses” membership of police and fire agencies. This definition is in language that describes entities intended to receive reallocated spectrum from TV channels 60-69. The other, a broader definition, includes utilities, railroads, pipelines, automobile clubs and metropolitan transit authorities. It appears in language that describes radio services not subject to spectrum auctions, and that directs the FCC to make sure that, when allocating spectrum, it takes into consideration the needs of this broader class of public safety users.
So, previously filed petitions for reconsideration, the APCO petition and the potential for several additional classes of radio users to claim certain rights or privileges as “public safety” users led the chief of the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Daniel Phythyon, to make an announcement Oct. 7 at the ITA conference. He said it was his intention to stay the order lifting portions or all of the freeze on accepting applications for exclusive systems in the 470MHz-512MHz band. With the freeze otherwise having been due to lift only 10 days later, he commented, “The amount of the notice will be uncomfortably brief.”
The freeze already has been “uncomfortably long.”
Phythyon said he has no estimate of a new timeline for resolving the issues underlying the freeze. As of Oct. 9, with this column due to be sent to the printer, it looked as though Phythyon might lack enough commissioners’ votes to sustain the stay he said he intended to issue. So as you read this, the controversial stay may not have been issued, and there may be joy in private radio. If the stay is issued, a lot of private radio users, equipment dealers and manufacturers will be justifiably frustrated, and you might hear them yell from where you are.
Let there be joy.
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Moratoria no more On Sept. 11, adding its voice to that of Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), Personal Communications Industry Association (PCIA) called on the FCC “to preempt state and local moratoria on tower siting that bar entry into the wireless communications marketplace.” PCIA wants an end to open-ended moratoria, any single moratoria or cumulative moratoria extending beyond 90 days and any moratoria based on radio-frequency emission concerns.
The FCC has shown reluctance to preempt state authority in certain matters, partly because federal courts sometimes scrutinize preemptions carefully and may overturn them. Once upon a time, though, the FCC was reluctant to regulate the frequency coverage of radio receivers, and it managed to reform its ways on that matter at the histrionic urging of CTIA. Maybe CTIA and PCIA together can cause the FCC to reform its ways once again and override state and local government authority. Maybe. Scanner hobbyists don’t have access to taxpayer money to pay for the defense of their interests. State and local governments do.
That’s what you want to see, isn’t it? Your state and local tax dollars being used to pay lawyers to fight other lawyers paid by your federal tax dollars in a court supported by your tax dollars. — Don Bishop