FCC slowdown could leave 900 MHz proceeding in limbo until next year
It is unclear whether a request from Republicans that the FCC not tackle controversial subjects until the administration led by President-elect Donald Trump takes office will prevent the agency from taking action on the 900 MHz private broadband proposal, but it is a possibility, according to an official with the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA).
In the wake of Trump’s victory, Republican lawmaker asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to remove controversial items from the FCC’s agenda for its November meeting. At the urging of Republican FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, only one item remained on the agenda for the meeting.
In a press conference after the meeting, Wheeler expressed hope that commissioners could agree to take some substantive actions, but the tentative agenda for the December FCC meeting—the commission’s final meeting before Trump’s inauguration in January—includes only two items for consideration.
One pending item before the FCC is a proposal by pdvWireless and EWA to transition part of a swath of narrowband spectrum in the 900 MHz band to a 3×3 MHz block to support broadband usage for critical-infrastructure customer, such as utilities. The remaining 2×2 MHz would continue to be used to support existing narrowband LMR operations.
This notion initially was proposed informally almost three years ago, with pdvWireless and EWA filing a formal rulemaking petition two years ago, in November 2014. The FCC conducted a proceeding on the matter but has not taken action. EWA and pdvWireless officials have expressed the belief that the agency has drafted a notice of inquiry (NOI)—not a rulemaking, as requested—that is awaiting commission action.
EWA President and CEO Mark Crosby said he does not believe a NOI should be considered controversial, because the nature of such a proceeding is that “they’re just asking questions” and would only be proposing rules, not making them.
However, Crosby also noted the current political climate, noting that the FCC could shut down work on proceedings such as the 900 MHz broadband proposal “because they don’t want to upset anybody. I don’t know what gets through.”
Of course, even without the uncertainty of a presidential-administration transition, the FCC had not taken action on the 900 MHz proceeding two years after the petition was filed. Crosby said he hopes this trend of inaction will change with the new FCC.
“I’ll tell you what I would like: I would like to have our stuff not lie around for five years. I’d rather have them tell me ‘No’ within the first year, if they’re going to say ‘No’ at all—just give us an answer,” Crosby said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “But stuff lying around for two, three, four or five years is a long time. I hope the new administration says, ‘We want to keep the trains running.’
“That’s the most frustrating thing that I’ve seen lately—how long it takes to make decisions.”
In addition to 900 MHz broadband proceeding, Crosby cited pending petitions regarding topics such as enterprise use of T-Band spectrum, interstitial channels, and license-renewal policies as examples of issues that have been before the FCC for more than two years without action.