Sprint settles rebanding cost dispute
Sprint Nextel has settled a dispute with the city of Boston regarding whether the use of inventory-control software that the city had purchased from MCM Technology constituted a recoverable expense related to the reconfiguration of the city’s 800 MHz radio system. The agreement calls for Sprint Nextel to reimburse to the city the sum of $60,000, which accounts for all of the costs associated with the software, according to an attorney who represented the city in the case.
The city claimed that the tracking-and-management software was necessary in part because its radios had to be touched twice during the reconfiguration process — once to program the new channels that the system would be using after the reconfiguration and a second time to remove the channels that had been used prior to the reconfiguration.
But the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) rejected the claim in February 2007, stating that the city hadn’t demonstrated the need for the second touch. The PSHSB also opined that the city misinterpreted the minimum number of touches required by the FCC’s original order to complete the reconfiguration. Because no base stations would be operating on the old channels once rebanding was completed, the bureau determined that removing the old channels was not needed, making the inventory-control software unnecessary.
The city appealed to the FCC, calling the removal of the old frequencies from both mobiles and portables a critical step in most cases. The commission in April 2007 granted a hearing of the matter before an administrative law judge.
Robert Schwaninger, president of Schwaninger & Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that represented the city in this case, said that regardless of the argument over whether a second touch of the radios is justified, the software is a legitimate expense given the cost recovery aspects of the FCC’s rebanding order.
Specifically, the order places the burden on licensees adversely affected by interference caused by Sprint Nextel’s operations in the band to accurately account for every radio that must be reprogrammed. Should a licensee discover a cache of radios after Sprint Nextel completes its rebanding, then the licensee would have to pay the costs associated with reconfiguring the additional radios. It’s also critical that licensees accurately account for internal personnel costs, particularly large agencies that might be devoting hundreds of personnel who in turn are spending thousands of hours on the project, Schwaninger said. “This is a difficult thing to track if you don’t have the right tools,” he said.
“This is not a glorified spreadsheet … you can actually manage the project” using this software, which offers an “error-rejection” capability, Schwaninger added. “The problem we have with the public safety guys is that they’re not used to keeping these kinds of records.”
A Sprint Nextel spokesman said in an e-mail response that the carrier decided to settle because of its commitment to moving the reconfiguration process forward. “We are pleased that Boston can now proceed with their Phase 1 rebanding,” said spokesman Scott Sloat.
Indeed, the impasse in Boston has been holding up reconfiguration of the National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee, or NPSPAC, licensees, according to Alan Tilles, an attorney with Shulman, Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker of Alexandria, Va., who represents numerous 800 MHz licensees.
“I’m pretty sure that Nextel said, ‘We can’t get the rebanding done in Boston without coming to an agreement with the city.’ So it made more sense to move the process along … than it did to [continue a] hearing that would last until the end of [this] year,” Tilles said.
Tilles added that he was able to get use of the MCM software approved at the bureau level as a legitimate rebanding expense for cases involving Washoe County, Nev., in which the city of Reno is located, and the city of Suffolk, Va., by getting MCM to change the terms of its offering.
“If you read the Boston decision, the commission goes off on this thing about having residual benefit from the software after rebanding,” Tilles said. “So I had MCM change what it offered my client that made it a subscription instead of a purchase,” Tilles said. “So at the end of rebanding, my clients will have nothing.”
Sprint Nextel is challenging both of those bureau decisions, Tilles said. He added that, in light of the Boston settlement, he is hopeful the carrier ultimately will drop both appeals.