Say hello to a year like no other
A new year has dawned, one that should see an incredible amount of activity on many fronts. It is likely that every entity in the land mobile sector will be affected in some way — many deeply affected — by events to take place during 2008. The hope is that these activities will significantly enhance communications for the sector.
The beginning of the year will see the 700 MHz auction, and we soon will learn the identities of those bidding for the D Block spectrum. The successful entity then will negotiate with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust and its adviser, Cyren Call. It has been said that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and events surrounding the 700 MHz band could well prove the adage.
For instance, should Frontline Wireless be the auction winner, negotiations will see former FCC Chairman Mark Fowler negotiating with Cyren Call’s Morgan O’Brien. Many years ago, the two also negotiated a spectrum deal, when Fowler’s Powerfone negotiated the sale of its large 800 MHz system to the former Nextel. Similarly, the other likely bidders also have had dealings with O’Brien in the past. Thus, while the negotiations won’t necessarily be “old home week,” the parties nevertheless are well-acquainted. This actually could be a benefit to the negotiation process, hopefully ensuring a successful outcome.
Once that negotiation has concluded, the second phase will begin, including system design. It can be expected that public safety will have its hands full with activity in the band for a long time to come. However, at the same time, the rebanding of 800 MHz NPSPAC systems finally will ensue in earnest during 2008. During the first half of the year, three different phases of the NPSPAC reconfiguration will occur at the same time: rebanding for some licensees, planning for other licensees and negotiations for another set of licensees. With many public safety interests busy with 700 MHz, as well as non-spectrum issues such as E911, it is easy to see how public safety resources (as well as land mobile technicians participating in the process) will be severely strained. March through June of 2008 probably will not be a good time to take a vacation.
During 2008 it also can be expected that the FCC will begin work on deciding how the spectrum vacated by Sprint Nextel will be assigned. While the current rules mandate a “first come, first served” process, some public safety interests are pushing for a modified type of regional planning process used for NPSPAC and 700 MHz. If such a process is adopted, it must include safeguards to ensure that the process does not drag out to the point where the “head start” given to public safety licensees for this spectrum is lost.
For non — public safety licensees, 2008 also should see the commission taking action on the stalled 900 MHz proceeding. Presently, the FCC has yet to act on comments received in a proceeding designed to revamp the use of 900 MHz Business and Industrial/Land Transportation Pool channels. Colliding with this proceeding is the commission’s recent rebanding decision, which mandates that Sprint Nextel vacate 800 MHz 1-120 spectrum by the end of June 2008. If this decision stands — Sprint Nextel is challenging the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals — the carrier may need to make greater use of 900 MHz channels after June to ensure capacity. In such an event, Sprint Nextel may be forced to bite the bullet and enter into purchase agreements with some urban licensees that were not considered in earlier acquisition rounds.
While 150 and 450 MHz narrowbanding is not yet mandatory, licensees are starting to consider how their long-term growth issues will be affected by the deadline still several years away. Therefore, 2008 should see the beginning of increased narrowbanding activity. Although this activity will not peak for quite a while, this year should mark the serious beginning of the process.
2008 brings expectations, anticipation and plenty of activity. Let’s all hope that it will be a fruitful year for the land mobile sector.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.