Sprint Nextel: Extension needed to reband public safety
Days after a Sprint Nextel official was quoted as stating the wireless carrier would ask the FCC for a delay of as much as two years in the rebanding of 800 MHz spectrum, a Sprint Nextel spokesman said the company would like to see an extension of the three-year timetable. However, he did not specify how long the extension should be or whether the carrier would make such a request.
“Sprint Nextel believes it would be prudent for the FCC to re-examine the current timeline,” the spokesman said. “To continue without adequate time for public safety to plan for the reconfiguring of their mutual-aid channels will result in an unacceptable risk of disruption to their reliable communications.”
Indeed, observers of the rebanding process have long expressed concern that relocating public-safety licensees would be much more difficult than moving commercial operators in the 800 MHz band from the Channel 1-120 frequencies — an effort that is proceeding in a timely manner, by most accounts. One complication is the existence of mutual-aid channels and other interoperability arrangements that could be disrupted if participants are not rebanded simultaneously.
But last month’s statements from Sprint Nextel were the carrier’s first indication the mutual-aid-channel issue is a significant problem. A media report quoting Robert Foosaner, Sprint Nextel’s senior vice president of governmental affairs, as stating that public safety “just isn’t ready” was not received well by the public-safety community.
“What they’re saying is that it’s essentially public safety’s fault,” said Wanda McCarley, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials. “I’m very disappointed that they took that approach to dealing with the delays as they stand today because many of the delays have been in [reconfiguration-agreement] negotiations. … For Sprint Nextel to say that public safety just isn’t ready just isn’t true.”
Sprint Nextel later issued a short statement to clarify its position, noting the “public-safety community and their leadership have been working hard” on rebanding.
Regardless of the nuances in Sprint Nextel’s position, McCarley expressed concerns about the prospect of delaying rebanding.
“I think delay for the sake of delay is wrong,” she said. “The grave concern for public safety is that the interference is still out there … and it’s getting worse in some areas. Every day that [rebanding is] not done worries me. While we understand that the timetable that’s out there now may be difficult to meet, we’re absolutely committed to working as diligently as we would if that was a hard date because we absolutely have to get this interference taken care of.”
Nearly everyone involved in rebanding has acknowledged the relocation of NPSPAC licensees is behind schedule. But precise statistics regarding the progress in rebanding were not available because the Transition Administrator’s much-anticipated quarterly report had not been released as of press time. The TA did issue a statement emphasizing that the rebanding schedule had not been altered.
There are many reasons for the slow progress in NPSPAC negotiations, and it may be time for all parties involved in rebanding to “sit down around the table again and make a concerted effort to deal with the issues” rather than seeking to delay the effort, McCarley said. But one way to accelerate the process would be for Sprint Nextel to release NPSPAC licensees from the nondisclosure agreements that prevent public-safety entities from learning from each other, she said.
“Public safety has always helped each other through consulting with peers in the industry to get the background that they need to go forward with something that they’re planning and, to a great degree, they’ve been prohibited from doing that,” she said. “We’ve said several times that doing away with those nondisclosure agreements would make this process go much faster.”