Rebanding ‘Fast Track’ option might be repaved
CHARLOTTE—A representative of the Transition Administrator that is overseeing the reconfiguration of 800 MHz airwaves agreed yesterday to recommend that the TA revisit the Fast Track planning option that few licensees have been able to leverage thus far.
Fast Track was designed to let a licensee submitting a planning-funding request forego negotiations with Sprint Nextel should their proposal seek no more than $55 per subscriber unit from the wireless carrier in planning funds. In such circumstances, Sprint Nextel would write a contract once the TA deems the planning-funding request is reasonable.
The sticking points are the requirements that Fast Track licensees spend no more than $55 per unit, with no more than 8% of their planning-funding costs on legal expenses and no more than 25% of their planning funding on project management. While the goal was to have half of all licensees use the Fast Track option, only 19% have to date, according to the latest figures from the Transition Administrator. This has limited the number of licensees able to qualify for the Fast Track option.
“For some of the larger licensees, Fast Track has been great, but some of the smaller licensees just can’t get there,” said Alan Tilles, a partner with the Rockville, Md., law firm Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy and Ecker that represents about 150 licensees involved in the rebanding process.
“Nobody ever talked to us when they came up with Fast Track, and that’s a problem,” said Tilles, who moderated an 800 MHz rebanding session at the inaugural IWCE-MRT Wireless Summit here. “When you say $55 for a 20,000-unit agency, it’s far different than for a 1500-unit agency, and it’s for the 1500-unit agency that we need Fast Track.”
Tilles added that it would be a mistake to assume a smaller public-safety agency could use Fast Track simply because it is dealing with a comparatively small number of units.
“There is a certain thing that needs to be done and it takes that many hours, whether you’re [working with] a 1000 units or 500,000 units,” he said.
Rick Burke, principal with Televate, which provides engineering services to affected licensees, echoed the sentiment. “Let’s revisit Fast Track and adjust for the size of the network,” he said. “It’s easier to reach Fast Track for a larger network than a smaller network, which has to do the same amount of planning and the same amount of negotiations, sometimes. Let’s make Fast Track work, and scale it. A $55 radio doesn’t work for all. It doesn’t. I want to do Fast Track, but every time I look at my numbers, I see $75-$100 [per radio].”
Shane Satterlund, managing director for Bearing Point, who is a member of the TA’s 800 MHz Public Safety Outreach team, agreed that Fast Track should be revisited.
“The success of the Fast Track program was predicated on trying to catch a certain percentage of that public-safety community to eliminate them as candidates to go through the negotiating process,” Satterlund said.
“What we didn’t have when we put the $55 number in place—which was done through a series of negotiations with a number of parties—was the empirical data to know whether or not that number was going to truly allow us to accomplish [this] objective. We have that now. What I’ll commit to do, based on the number of times it’s been brought up here, is go back and revisit that to see if there’s a way we can try to do that better.”
Upon hearing Satterlund’s pledge, Tilles said, “That’s a super commitment, and that might be the best takeaway you guys have today.”