Here’s a little T-Band aid
Naturally, all of the buzz since late February has been over the Tax Reform Bill's reallocation of the 700 MHz D Block to public safety, and the provision of $7 billion in federal funding. However, what has some licensees in the largest urban areas concerned is the requirement that the so-called T-Band (470–512 MHz) be returned in 11 years by public safety, with the FCC auctioning that spectrum.
Since there is not much meat in the bill on this issue, it is important to review what was included — and what was not included — and discuss what typically would happen at this point.
What is this spectrum? The T-Band (TV Channels 14–20) is spectrum that was allocated in the largest urban areas for land-mobile use on a shared basis with broadcasters. In other words, in Washington, D.C., we have Channel 20. However, that channel is not used in Philadelphia, so it could be available for land mobile there, subject to mileage restrictions.
Who has to return the spectrum? The bill states that it must be returned by public safety. Business and industrial users are not mentioned, nor are they specifically excluded. Therefore, whether these users have to be relocated most likely will be discussed by the FCC in the proceeding that it must now conduct to create rules to implement the bill. The FCC could decide that T-Band business and industrial licensees should be moved too.
Where do they move to? The bill is silent on this question. Therefore, the FCC will have to decide the spectrum to which T-Band users will migrate. However, considering the difficulty of finding clear spectrum in these largest urban areas, the FCC may decide on a strategy similar to what occurred with the Microwave/PCS relocation. The commission could decide to leave it to the auction winner to locate compatible, comparable spectrum for a T-Band licensee, with due consideration to equipment and interoperability issues, at the auction winner's expense. Under this format, it is possible that the auction winner could decide to leave the incumbent in the same place and work around them.
Who pays for the move? The bill provides that T-Band auction proceeds will be used to help fund the move. However, this may not be enough, hence the option to not move incumbents.
When will the moves happen? The FCC must conduct an auction in nine years, with licensees being moved within two years after that.
What happens to narrowbanding in the T-Band? The FCC will need to quickly address whether T-Band licensees still need to narrowband. However, if you have a system that can't be narrowbanded, it is at least 10 years old. Therefore, if you were to argue that you shouldn't have to narrowband because you're going to be moved, your system when you do move will be at least 20 years old. So, you must plan accordingly.
Certainly, T-Band licensees must review carefully how the bill and the implementing regulations impact their operations. However, every problem also should be seen as an opportunity. Over the next months, we'll be working hard on providing the FCC input regarding how this relocation should happen, and strategizing how licensees can take advantage of a unique situation.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
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.