Baltimore shuns 800 MHz rebanding
The city of Baltimore can’t find much to its liking in the prospect of rebanding the 800 MHz band in an effort to resolve interference to public safety radio systems from cellular carriers in adjacent bands and from digital, cellularized radio-and-wireless telephone operations within the 800 MHz band such as the ESMR systems owned by Nextel Communications, McLean, VA.
The city filed a reply comment in the FCC’s WT Docket No. 02-55 proceeding to improve public safety radio communications and resolve the interference. Baltimore wrote that it believes that the interference problem may be overstated, and that it “strongly opposes any retuning or relocation of its own, recently installed, fully operational and effective radio communications system.”
Baltimore told the FCC that to ensure the safety of its public safety workers and the public, any change in frequencies would have to be accomplished by the construction of a redundant system that would have to be tested extensively and proven to work before cutting over to it. The city estimates that it would cost about the same $70 million to build such a redundant system that it cost to build its current, four-year old system.
“If Baltimore, or any other public safety entity, encounters any outages or other transition problems, the results could prove deadly,” the city’s comment reads.
Baltimore finds itself in the relatively fortunate position of using a system designed to take out of service any radio channels from its trunking pool that receive interference.
“Baltimore’s 800 MHz system has 28 channels. At any one time, Baltimore is unable to use two or three of its licensed channels due to third-party interference. Although this loss of capacity is frustrating and unnecessary, it only affects the capacity and not the ability of the system to function. Baltimore’s public safety end-users do not experience busy signals from the interference, because Baltimore’s system is designed to automatically make the channels subject to interference unavailable to its end-users.”
Regarding the extent of the problem, the city wants the FCC to form a task force to clarify the record and ascertain how widespread and invasive the interference problem is and to ascertain whether a technical solution might serve, before “disrupting the entire 800 MHz band.”
“This proceeding is not about getting commercial providers ‘better spectrum,’ getting public safety operators additional spectrum, limiting the liability of CMRS operators, engaging in spectrum-repacking gymnastics, or debating who needs to re-design, re-tune or rebuild their networks. It is about ensuring the public’s safety by eliminating interference to public safety operations,” Baltimore told the FCC.
Baltimore wants some technical and financial assurances, including open-ended funding. If it is required to change frequencies, it wants the ability to choose its own contractor. It wants reimbursement for both “hard and soft costs, without a reimbursement cap.” The city won’t tolerate placing its radio communications traffic on a CMRS system, even on a temporary basis, while channel retuning is under way.
In the meantime, Baltimore wants the FCC to direct its licensees that may be interfering with other licensed facilities, particularly public safety operations, to shut down individual channels as may be necessary to stop interference until a mutually agreeable solution might be adopted by the affected parties. It wants the FCC to enforce its “first-in-time” policy that requires a “newcomer” to bear the financial and general responsibility to eliminate interference.
“Where public safety operators were in place prior to when a new licensee, whether Nextel or anyone else, began operating its system, the new licensee, and the new licensee alone, should be required to correct the interference problem,” Baltimore’s comment reads.