New day, new problem
The FCC has initiated a series of proceedings which seek to correct the effective radiated power, or ERP, of numerous 800 MHz licenses in the Canadian border area. Many of these licensees are public-safety entities.
By way of background, these are licenses granted by the FCC that allow more power than typically is permitted in the border area. Apparently, a variety of issues led to these improper grants.
The errors were discovered when the agreement regarding the 800 MHz rebanding plan for the U.S./Canada border was reached. The FCC has been working with Canadian authorities to see if these systems, most of which have been in operation for many years, could be grandfathered regarding their existing power output.
The good news is that the Canadian authorities agreed to grandfather approximately 80% of the erroneously granted systems. The bad news is that numerous public-safety licensees now face a drastic reduction of their ERP, which unquestionably will result in a loss of coverage.
The reduction of coverage area for public-safety radio systems is a significant issue. This is not a rebanding issue — although it was discovered because of rebanding — so even if there is a technical solution (adding transmitter sites, for example), there is no funding coming from Sprint Nextel for the change. Thus, licensees are faced with figuring out whether their systems can be reconfigured and making those modifications at their own cost. However, in some areas, there may not be any options at 800 MHz.
Obviously, this is a big problem for cash-strapped municipalities in areas where there are options. These licensees are asking why this is an issue now, when it was the FCC (in some cases) that made the error (in the pre-ULS era) and these systems have operated without causing interference for years.
Since the orders came out just before this writing, it’s difficult to know how this will play out, but it represents a potentially huge impasse to completing rebanding in the Canadian border area anytime soon. The FCC already had instructed the Transition Administrator to hold frequency reconfiguration agreements, or FRAs, of impacted licensees while the issue was worked out, and now this result will cause additional delays as licensees attempt to cure potentially huge coverage holes.
While Canadian border licensees struggle with this issue, non-border licensees are in many cases struggling with the radio audit process, post-rebanding. Specifically, Sprint Nextel is closely reviewing returned radios from rebanded licensees to ensure that the radios were in fact operational. Apparently, some licensees were returning non-functional radios (sometimes just a radio case with no radio “guts”), or radios that operate in other frequency bands.
Thus, it would be wise for licensees to perform their own audit, prior to returning radios, to make sure that returned radios are functional. When non-functional radios are returned, licensees will be expected to pay for the new radio that they obtained from Sprint Nextel.
On another rebanding front, there is progress. The FCC has released an order that creates a rebanding plan for Puerto Rico. With this order, the Transition Administrator can begin to issue replacement frequencies, and licensees who have had FRAs for a considerable period of time, but been unable to reband, can proceed.
Release of the Puerto Rico band plan leaves only the Mexican border area as a region in need of a plan. It is hoped that this plan can been agreed to by the relevant parties sometime soon, so that rebanding can be completed.
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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@example.com.