More action, fewer words needed in rebanding
On Wednesday, the 800 MHz rebanding effort will reach a significant milestone: the two-year mark of what was supposed to be a three-year project.
Has two-thirds of the reconfiguration work been completed? No, and the notion that rebanding would be completed in three years has been laughable since negotiations with NPSPAC licensees began more than a year ago.
Although the fairly straightforward process of clearing the Channels 1-120 licensees generally is finished, we’re a long way from that point with NPSPAC licensees.
Here are some of the grim details: No NPSPAC licensees have moved to their new frequencies, and none have been scheduled to move. Even with additional time, more than 90% of NPSPAC licensees in the first three waves entered mandatory mediation, and relatively few of them have signed a rebanding agreement.
There’s plenty of private finger-pointing to explain the lack of progress. Consultants allegedly are trying to get rich quick by overcharging for work done and requesting to do work that isn’t necessary. Vendors allegedly are slow to submit quotes. Public safety allegedly took too long to get engaged and has failed to plan properly. The FCC allegedly failed to address disputes in a timely manner. The TA allegedly did not establish key processes for planning funding and subscriber deployment as early as they were needed. And Sprint Nextel allegedly wants to delay everything in an effort to handle capacity issues and slow rebanding’s inevitable impact to its bottom line.
Reasonable minds can debate long and hard about which of these problems has had the most impact. But no one is arguing that rebanding is progressing smoothly, quickly or cost effectively, as stories of prolonged negotiations involving multiple high-paid lawyers bickering over less money than each one makes in an hour have become too numerous to count.
A recent FCC ruling stated that such low-dollar disputes should not happen, but even that decision is troubling on another count. The FCC acted — quickly, in this instance — on a filing from Sprint Nextel, which claimed it needed clarification regarding the standard for judging the appropriateness of rebanding cost estimates.
Some cynics argue that Sprint Nextel used its tight interpretation of the “minimal cost” clause as an excuse for battling for every penny in negotiations, which helped create the delays. Regardless of the motivation, the carrier has a right — in fact, an obligation — to understand the cost criteria that should be used in negotiations. What escapes logic is the timing of the question.
It’s been almost three years since the FCC passed the rebanding order. Shouldn’t cost criteria have been clearly understood by all parties before the rebanding effort began? If it was something that was discovered after the process was started, it would seem that the question would have dawned on someone — Sprint Nextel, the TA, the FCC, or public safety — fairly early. Instead, the question was not asked until after the extended deadline for Wave 3 negotiations with NPSPAC licensees had passed.
What seems clear is that the current rebanding process is broken, and the FCC is going to have to take some action to fix it. It’s going to have to address disputes much more quickly that it has to date. In addition, some financial incentives/penalties may be needed to encourage deals to get done. Right now, too many parties that are influencing the negotiations make more money if rebanding is delayed than if it is executed expeditiously.
Finally, the FCC needs to address how it wants to handle the implementation timetable, which obviously is going to extend well beyond the targeted three-year period. To date, the commission has ignored this reality, creating questions as to whether licensees will get paid if their rebanding is not completed in a year. With all the other issues affecting rebanding, this is one cloud of uncertainty that needs to be cleared so progress can be realized.
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