TA: More than 300 public-safety licensees to enter mediation
Despite a three-month extension to negotiate rebanding agreements with Sprint Nextel, at least 77.5% of public-safety licensees in Wave 1 were not expected to have deals completed by yesterday’s deadline, the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA) stated in a report released yesterday.
The much-anticipated quarterly report—combining the quarters ending on June 30 and Sept. 30—states that only 30 of the 387 NPSPAC licensees in Wave 1 had completed a final reconfiguration agreement as of Sept. 30, two months after the original negotiation deadline had passed. Further, the report states that “the TA expects 300 or more licensees will enter mediation” mandated after the passing of yesterday’s negotiation deadline.
This is not the first time that a large number of licensees has entered required mediation, as 176 Channel 1-120 licensees entered the process in Wave 1 at the beginning of the year. Of those cases, only four were referred to the FCC for review after the completion of the mediation period.
It’s doubtful that NPSPAC licensees will experience a similar success rate, said Robert Gurss, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) legal and government affairs director and an attorney representing some 800 MHz licensees.
“I don’t think anyone expects that all these mediations will result in FRAs in 30 days,” Gurss said, noting that none of his Wave 1 clients had reached an agreement by the end of the mandatory negotiation period. “It just can’t happen, because a lot of these licensees still haven’t done their planning.”
Indeed, many NPSPAC licensees have been in mediation to resolve disputes regarding planning-funding agreements that must be settled before the public-safety entity can do the planning necessary to enter negotiations with Sprint Nextel on a final reconfiguration agreement. Where mediation has been used, the average timeframe in reaching a planning-funding agreement is more than a month shorter than in cases where no mediation has been involved, according to the TA.
“Going forward, the TA intends to make greater use of early mediation during the mandatory negotiation period to ensure that all necessary planning work moves forward as quickly as practicable,” the quarterly report states.
APCO President Wanda McCarley said she is approaching the mediation process with “guarded optimism.”
“I don’t see any other way to get everybody on a timeline,” she said.
Alan Tilles, a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker, said none of his more than 20 NPSPAC clients in Wave 1 were able to sign a final rebanding agreement before yesterday’s deadline, although a couple of deals are very close to completion.
Making matters more difficult is the fact that the beginning of NPSPAC Wave 1 mediations today coincides with the beginning of Wave 2 mandatory negotiations and Wave 3 voluntary negotiations, Tilles said.
“It’s really [screwed] up,” Tilles said.
On a more encouraging note, the TA report noted substantial progress in the clearing of Channel 1-120 licensees from the spectrum that NPSPAC licensees will occupy when the process is complete. Virtually all Wave 1 and Wave 2 licensees have completed agreements, and licensees have reported that almost two-thirds of the frequencies have been been cleared.
“In closing, while Stage 1 of band reconfiguration, a significant effort in itself, is generally proceeding on schedule, Stage 2 is much more complex, presents incremental challenges for all stakeholders, and accordingly, is proceeding more slowly,” the report states. “However, mediation will proceed for Wave 1, Stage 2 licensees as scheduled, thereby maintaining and hopefully increasing momentum.”
Later this month, the TA will issue formal guidance regarding the “early deployment” of replacement radios and flash kits to licensees as recommended by Motorola—something the TA believes is appropriate in some situations, according to the report. In addition, before the end of the year, the TA will evaluate whether Sprint Nextel achieved the FCC’s goal of clearing spectrum in at least 20 NPSPAC regions within the first 18 months of the rebanding process.