Potential FCC approval still may not let Charlotte deploy LTE
The Federal Communications Commission is considering an order that theoretically would allow the city of Charlotte, N.C., to proceed with its much-anticipated plans to deploy a public-safety LTE system on 700 MHz broadband spectrum. However, the details of the proposal likely will make it impractical for Charlotte to take action, according to a city official.
Last week, the FCC notified officials in Charlotte and Harris County, Texas, that an order is circulating among commissioners that would approve the interoperability showings from the two entities—an action needed before either jurisdiction could deploy public-safety LTE networks under their spectrum leases with the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST).
But this much-anticipated permission—if the order is approved by FCC commissioners—would not be enough to allow Charlotte to proceed with its LTE project, because other circumstances would make it too risky, according to Chuck Robinson, Charlotte’s director of shared services.
“It doesn’t change an awful lot,” Robinson said during an interview with Urgent Communications, noting that he had not seen a copy of the proposed order but had received information about it verbally from FCC officials.
Other aspects of the proposed order include terminating all existing 700 MHz broadband waivers on Sept. 2, according to multiple sources. While there would be a mechanism established for entities like Charlotte and Harris County to apply for special temporary authority (STA) to operate LTE systems, that temporary scenario is not attractive to Charlotte, Robinson said.
“That deployment brings a whole bunch of costs with it,” he said. “Without some kind of assurance that we can operate on the spectrum until either FirstNet provides services to us or our network elements are incorporated into FirstNet, we can’t operate.
“Nobody’s offering to pay our operating costs. Without a complete network that I know is going to be there for awhile, it’s difficult for me to enter into maintenance contracts, tower contracts and all of these other things.”
In addition, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)—the federal agency overseeing the buildout of the nationwide LTE network and the broadband grants that Charlotte expects to use to pay for its buildout—has instructed entities to halt early deployments. The NTIA based its decision on the fact that an entity like Charlotte would not have authority to operate on the spectrum, Robinson said.
“An STA is a temporary authority, so it still means that–at some point in the future–we would be noncompliant, if the [STA] wasn’t renewed,” he said. “I don’t know how it changes the fundamental conditions under which NTIA suspended the money.”
Other practical matters also have to be considered, such as training personnel and buying devices that could be in jeopardy of not being leveraged after Sept. 2, Robinson said.
Another aspect of the proposed FCC order would be the denial of all pending 700 MHz broadband waivers for public safety, according to several sources.