Rebanding falls further behind
Any remaining hopes of completing 800 MHz rebanding within the FCC’s original three-year timeline — scheduled to be completed June 27, 2008 — have all but been abandoned, as participants pursue strategies to ensure ongoing progress in the massive project.
Finalizing rebanding agreements between Sprint Nextel and public-safety licensees continues to be a problem, with 94% of the 224 Wave 2 NPSPAC licensees entering mandatory mediation on Feb. 1, according to the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA). Even more troubling was the fact that 69% of the Wave 1 NPSPAC licensees lacked a rebanding deal as of mid-February, said TA chief mediator Joe Markoski during the APCO Winter Summit in Orlando last month.
With 223 Wave 1 NPSPAC licensees lacking a deal despite having three additional months of negotiations and an extended mediation period, no one associated with rebanding has expressed any optimism that all Wave 1 licensees will be relocated by the end of the year, as the TA outlined in its modified schedule.
In fact, representatives of Sprint Nextel and public safety wrote a joint letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, asking that the TA be directed to identify public-safety licensees with systems that can be reconfigured this year and schedule them. In addition, the letter asks that the TA establish benchmarks that can be used to evaluate progress in the implementation phase of rebanding.
“I want some lines in the sand, much like the 20-market benchmark [the FCC established for clearing Channels 1-120],” APCO President Wanda McCarley said. “Without that, I don’t even want to talk about opening up that 36 months. … [We need] something hard and firm that can be used to gauge progress.”
Sprint Nextel also would welcome more implementation benchmarks. The carrier faces a challenging transition for its iDEN network, which has suffered significant subscriber losses amid spectrum-capacity constraints in certain urban markets during the past several months.
“Every one of those retunes requires a channel swap with us to perpetuate it, and we have to balance those out, so we’re not swapping everything out at the same time and can’t run our network,” said Larry Krevor, Sprint Nextel’s vice president of government affairs for spectrum. “There’s some hard work to do in planning, coordinating and scheduling, and it hasn’t really been done.”
Despite the struggles, those involved with rebanding noted significant progress in several key areas: rulings from the FCC clarifying a number of disputed items, negotiations to establish a procedure that would let licensees retune mobile and portable radios prior to having a final rebanding deal and — perhaps most important — the FCC’s ruling that neither Sprint Nextel nor licensees have to abide by nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).
“I’m optimistic that the recent decision by the commission to allow licensees to exchange their experience and their cost — as well as the representative numbers from the TA — will hopefully make the process more efficient and will mean less time for the mediation process,” Krevor said.
One complaint licensee representatives have expressed is that Sprint Nextel negotiators have cited cost estimates from other licensees as “comparable” but have not specified the licensees. Krevor said that should no longer be a problem. “As a result of the commission’s decision, we can now specify the licensee [when citing comparables] … and I assume we are now,” he said. “We couldn’t before.”
Another aspect of the NDA ruling was that the FCC directed the TA to publish costs for deals that have been completed, which the TA has done for planning-funding agreements (see graphic). However, many 800 MHz licensee representatives emphasized that licensees should not feel obligated to submit cost estimates in line with the TA publication.
“These are just a guide,” said Robert Gurss, APCO’s legal and government affairs director and an attorney representing several 800 MHz licensees. “If your numbers are significantly higher, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means you have to do more to justify them.”