700 MHz spectrum license questions remain unanswered
Exactly how and when the license to public safety’s 700 MHz broadband spectrum should be transferred from the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) remains undecided, according to PSST Chairman Harlin McEwen.
The PSST has recommended to federal officials that the 700 MHz broadband spectrum license be transferred to FirstNet around the beginning of September, when almost all of the existing spectrum-lease agreements with the PSST are due to expire, McEwen said. To date, the PSST has not received any indication as to when or how the transfer would occur, he said.
“They’re not talking,” McEwen said.
Under a law passed in February, the FirstNet board — the entity that will oversee the buildout of a nationwide LTE network for public safety — is supposed to be appointed by Aug. 20. However, there is not a clear statutory deadline for transferring the license, although the law mandates that FirstNet hold the license eventually.
“There’s nothing in the law that says when it has to happen,” McEwen said. “We’re on the record recommending that it happen at the end of August or the first of September, and the reason is that all of the leases expire — except for Texas — at that time.”
McEwen said the Texas lease to utilize the 700 MHz spectrum is not due to expire until next summer.
Under the terms of the spectrum leases between the PSST and about 20 jurisdictions that planned to deploy LTE systems as early as this summer, the leases were expected to be renewed every two years “as long as the PSST holds the nationwide license.”
Of course, those lease agreements were signed before Congress passed the law calling for FirstNet to build out a nationwide broadband network for public safety. Whether FirstNet should honor the PSST lease arrangements is an issue that has been debated throughout the industry, both from an operational and legal standpoint.
Currently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has asked that none of the spectrum leases be renewed, and has told jurisdictions with plans to deploy LTE systems this year — some have equipment in warehouses that is ready to be installed — to halt their work until the FirstNet board can decide what the next steps should be.