SBT emphasizes technical solutions to 800MHz interference; rejects Nextel’s clear possession of spectrum to swap
Offering specific technical solutions to interference and operations problems in the 800 MHz band, Small Business in Telecommunications filed extensive, early (Aug. 1)—and independent—Reply Comments in the FCC’s 800 MHz interference proceeding. The Reply Comments rejected any proposed swap of 700, 800 or 900 MHz frequencies by Nextel Communications to relocate 800 MHz licensees because Nextel lacks clear title to the spectrum offered in trade.
SBT noted there was an overwhelming industry consensus in the original filed comments that the FCC’s first duty is to enforce technical interference solutions and adherence to existing commission rules. SBT said other priorities — on which most commenters were in accord — were to avoid any financial injury or obligation to occupants of the band not causing interference and to institute a rebanding only as a last resort because it has a dubious potential to solve the problem. The Reply Comments address the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, “Improving Public Safety Communications in the 800 MHz Band — Consolidating the 800 MHz Industrial/Land Transportation and Business Pool Channels” (WT 02-55).
SBT’s Reply Comments describe specific technical solutions to reducing the source and the power density of intermodulation products and out-of-band emissions from interfering facilities. The comments also support a broad-based call for migration of public safety communications to the 700 MHz band, severely critique the “shallowness and applicability” of the Best Practices Guide, and reject the concept of rewarding any interferer — particularly Nextel Communications — with exchanged spectrum in other bands, such as 1.9 GHz. SBT determined that a joint reply filing with the Private Wireless Coalition, which is supporting a compromise that includes 10 MHz for Nextel at 1.9 GHz, was not in the best interest of the industry or its members.
SBT’s Reply Comments strongly discounted Nextel’s assertion that it holds title to substantial amounts of 700, 800 and 900 MHz channels, a portion of which would be employed in a channel swap to facilitate rebanding. SBT pointed out that nowhere within the rulemaking proceeding had there been any proof of Nextel’s claims, and it outlined several reasons for disputing a transferable inventory.
SBT pointed out that Nextel had been operating under an FCC extension of time for construction of 900 MHz SMR systems based on its stated intention to bring to the market a frequency-agile operation, employing both 800 MHz and 900 MHz channels to deliver voice and data services. The FCC granted the waiver in January 2001 based on certain assertions by Nextel. First, Nextel claimed that equipment was not yet available to integrate its 900 MHz MTA licensed spectrum into its existing nationwide 800 MHz system. The company also stated that it would use $20 million that it would have spent on timely construction of 900 MHz SMR facilities to deploy “pico-cell” technology to resolve interference issues related to the reliable operation of 800 MHz public safety systems. Eleven months later, Nextel was filing a white paper with the FCC, acknowledging its inability to resolve public safety interference problems, which helped trigger the current rulemaking proceeding.
SBT said that statements made by Nextel in this rulemaking proceeding indicate that it no longer viewed the use of pico-cell technology as a viable method to resolve harmful interference. SBT noted that was a logical determination because such technology was neither available nor applicable to the purposes claimed by Nextel at the time of its 900 MHz request for waiver, nor was it ever designed to be applied to any uses within the 800 MHz band. Nextel also did not spend the claimed $20 million for such technology, a condition of the waiver.
“It is obvious that Nextel has long abandoned its thoughts regarding deployment of an 800/900 MHz system because it is willing to employ its 900 MHz channels as unconstructed trading stock in this proceeding, rather than bringing an allegedly competitive service to the market,” SBT said. “Nextel has not done the honorable act of reminding the commission of the basis for the extension of construction deadlines and, instead, hastens today to throw up as quickly as possible analog 900 MHz SMR facilities in an attempt to secure those licenses for its purposes in leveraging those licenses into a sweetheart spectrum deal within this proceeding.”
Nextel has claimed rights to substantial blocks of 800 MHz channels that would be used for relocating public safety, but SBT noted that statement was inaccurate because it ignores the channels that are licensed to Nextel Partners Inc., an entity in which Nextel Communications, Inc. is a minority shareholder. Nextel Partners is a substantial holder of spectrum that would be required to facilitate Nextel Communications’ radical rebanding plan, yet SBT pointed out that Nextel Partners had not filed comments in this rulemaking nor endorsed its minority shareholder’s statements. Therefore, Nextel Communications’ claims regarding its ability to deliver necessary 800 MHz spectrum for any proposed rebanding are without authority, SBT said.
SBT also questioned whether Nextel Communications holds exclusively within any market those blocks of 800MHz spectrum that it proposes to swap. Incumbents continue to operate legitimate systems from the Upper 200 channels clear down to the General Category frequencies.
“Nextel Communications’ long-sewn patchwork quilt of channels continues to be just that, and it is this cobbling together of channels across the 800 MHz band for operation of a low-site cellular system that is one of the primary causes of that interference suffered by 800 MHz operators,” SBT said in its Reply Comments.
As to Nextel’s claims regarding its license authority at 700 MHz, SBT noted that Nextel accepted that non-nationwide authority under the condition that its use of the band would include fulfilling the obligations of a band manager, while timely constructing facilities that would employ the channels for Nextel’s own use.
“Nextel’s white paper and its comments within this proceeding act as an anticipatory repudiation of those obligations, thus rendering Nextel no longer eligible to serve as a band manager and, therefore, no longer qualified to hold the subject 700 MHz licenses,” SBT said, adding that, “In sum, Nextel has stated in its comments within this proceeding that it no longer wants the band manager job.”
“The commission should recognize its disappointed intentions in granting those licenses to Nextel and summarily cancel Nextel’s authority without further consideration,” SBT said. “Certainly, Nextel has done nothing to serve the public interest in operating on those channels or facilitating other persons’ operation on those channels,” SBT added. The association noted that Nextel’s lack of proactive management was in contrast with the yeoman-like efforts expended by band managers such as Access Spectrum to urge production of type-accepted equipment at 700 MHz.
Additionally, SBT noted that it appears that Nextel is trying to obtain some form of credit for its willingness to return 700 MHz spectrum, despite the fact that Nextel’s authorization as a band manager (which is only in 40 markets) only allows it to operate on half of the spectrum, employing the remainder for third party uses. Therefore, “Nextel’s offer is to trade half and receive the whole of the credit,” SBT said. “Nextel is attempting to trade a highly questionable title to that spectrum necessary to facilitate its strategy in exchange for clear title to contiguous spectrum within the 800 MHz band and 10 MHz at higher frequencies.”
“Before the commission might equitably consider this strange and radical idea, it must first engage in due diligence to determine whether Nextel’s offer contains any adequate consideration for the valuable spectrum and other accommodations Nextel seeks,” SBT said. “[We] invite the commission’s due diligence to determine whether Nextel’s claims are even remotely supportable, or whether Nextel has again offered illusory claims of consideration which ring hollow like its claims within its request for waiver of the construction deadline for its 900 MHz SMR facilities. In sum, the commission was already fooled in granting Nextel’s 900 MHz waiver request and should not allow itself to be duped again.”
The full text of SBT’s Reply Comments is publicly available at its Web site, www.sbthome.org. With more than 90 original comments filed, and replies still being filed, it is anticipated that it will be sometime in the fall before the FCC issues a rulemaking. However, Congress has directed the FCC to resolve this proceeding before commencing with the postponed lower 700 MHz band auction (Auction 31).