Rebanding decisions will have an impact
New York is in the process of replacing its radio system. As part of this upgrade, the state reached an agreement with Sprint Nextel for reconfiguring its 800 MHz spectrum — a reband that would wind up not costing to Sprint Nextel a dime. However, while the state wanted to immediately negotiate the timing for the move, Sprint Nextel wanted to wait for regional planning to take place in order to time everyone’s reband in the area.
It is Sprint Nextel’s position, as expressed to the FCC in another filing, that NPSPAC rebanding in urban areas should be part of a regional plan. There are two reasons for this. First, it is necessary to ensure no loss of interoperability between public-safety licensees occurs as a result of the reband. Second, if everyone in a region is rebanding its NPSPAC infrastructure simultaneously, Sprint Nextel would not have an operational network.
The commission decided that, although the reband does not need to begin immediately, Sprint Nextel must negotiate the timing of the process now. The timing negotiation process is now beginning in other areas of the country, too, with a joint Transition Administrator (TA), Sprint Nextel and licensee meeting the Denver region taking place shortly. It can be expected that similar meetings will take place in other areas of the country in the future.
In addition, the commission released an order that gives further definition to the lowest-price standard that has been the bane of negotiations to date. In response to a request from Sprint Nextel, the commission has stated that the lowest price has to be looked at in context. In other words, spending thousands of dollars to argue over hundreds of dollars doesn’t exactly make sense. The FCC also said that the cost metrics published by the TA could be used as a tool in negotiations.
Of course, there are several problems with the metrics that are inherent in any kind of compilation of this sort. First, although the metrics take into account system size, they don’t take into account the different manufacturers of 800 MHz equipment — each bringing different methodologies (and, therefore, different costs) to the process.
Further, while the metrics may reflect the agreements reached, there is no accounting for the change orders that were implemented after the agreements were signed, as cost estimates gave way to cost reality.
The commission released a decision in the Tazewell County, Ill., mediation (we represented Tazewell in their negotiations). In the proceeding, Tazewell sought to replace its EDACS radios, which currently are able to utilize trunked NPSPAC frequencies but would not be able to after rebanding. It was Sprint Nextel’s position that since Tazewell was not today using trunked NPSPAC frequencies (they currently are using trunked interleaved channels and conventional NPSPAC mutual aid channels), the radios did not need to be replaced.
The commission decided that the licensee should not be deprived of an operational capability, which they currently have available, and the radios must be replaced. This decision will have significant repercussions in a number of mediations. For its part, Sprint Nextel has asked the FCC to take a completely fresh look at the matter, so this part of the saga is not over.
Finally, by the time you read this, the commission most likely will have released its decision on the various Petitions for Reconsideration, which were filed in December 2005. Included in this decision should be review of items, including the recoverability of costs for the filing of FCC appeals of mediation decisions and rebanding in Puerto Rico. Taken together, these decisions significantly move the process in what hopefully is a positive direction.
Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at [email protected].