Joint letter sheds light on rebanding problems
Last week, leaders of Sprint Nextel and public safety sent a joint letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin asking the commission to direct the Transition Administrator (TA) to establish implementation schedules and benchmarks for the rebanding of public-safety licensees operating in the 800 MHz band.
The good news is that the letter acknowledges that planning is needed, as it has become increasingly clear that the logistics associated with all aspects of relocating public safety and Sprint Nextel in a manner that works for both will be extremely complicated. Equipment and human resources needed to get the job done could be in short supply as the project moves further along, and accessing some radios — for example, those located on mountaintops — can only be done efficiently during certain windows of time.
It’s also nice that Sprint Nextel and public safety agreed to write the letter, although the lack of specific recommendations makes one wonder whether the parties are really on the same page on this matter, other than the fact that some implementation planning is necessary.
The bad news is that the letter also raises some red flags regarding the status of the rebanding effort. Under the TA’s current schedule, all Wave 1 public-safety licensees are supposed to be relocated by the end of this year. In the letter, Sprint Nextel and public safety are asking the TA to identify any public-safety licensees that can be rebanded this year.
Indeed, the fact that two-thirds of Wave 1 licensees have not signed a rebanding agreement after getting a three-month time extension and going through lengthy mediations is troubling, to say the least. With the recent news that an even greater percentage of Wave 2 licensees entered mediation compared with Wave 1, there appears to be little hope that the pace of negotiations will improve markedly in the near future. After all, many key players that should be cutting deals for Wave 3 right now are focusing their attention on Wave 1 and Wave 2 mediations.
There are myriad reasons why rebanding deals are proving to be so elusive, some more legitimate than others. One particularly disconcerting theme is that negotiations are being extended unnecessarily over relatively small dollar amounts.
At the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) Winter Summit, one attendee noted a case entering mediation with only $176 in dispute — and this scenario is “not unique,” said Robert Gurss, a lawyer involved with rebanding and APCO’s director of government affairs.
“Mediation has been a great process for getting things done, but also is a lawyer-heavy process,” Gurss said. “I don’t understand the rationale, in some of these cases, where they’re spending dollars to save nickels.”
Having such cases go to mediation is ridiculous, because the amount of money being contested will be dwarfed by the amount of money being paid to have all the lawyers for Sprint Nextel, the licensee and the TA mediator on the phone for even a few minutes. It’s like taking a small-claims case to the Supreme Court; even if you win the case, you lose money.
The FCC should take action to stop such tactics, because it wastes time in a process that’s already well behind schedule. In addition, a big loser in this is the American taxpayer. Remember, any money left over from the $2.8 billion that Sprint Nextel is obligated to pay for rebanding is supposed to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury. Those funds were supposed to pay for the retuning of radios — and maybe retiring some of the national debt — not supporting the retirement funds of rebanding participants’ lawyers.
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