FCC set to vote on 4.9 GHz order, despite public-safety opposition
FCC commissioners are scheduled to consider new rules that would let states lease 4.9 GHz spectrum—a 50 MHz swath that has long been designated for public-safety use—to commercial entities amid considerable opposition from public-safety organizations and representatives.
Under the proposed 4.9 GHz order, states would be given the ability to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum to commercial entities, electric utilities and others, allowing those new licensees to use the airwaves for both public-safety and non-public-safety purposes. In addition, FCC commissioners are scheduled to vote during the Sept. 30 meeting on a notice of proposed rulemaking that would propose licensing rules for the band and seek comment on the best methods to implement them.
“States can continue to use the spectrum for their own public safety network operations; they can enter into one or more commercial arrangements for commercial deployment of public-safety communications services; they can lease the spectrum to a commercial service provider for deployment of mobile or fixed wireless Internet service, private land mobile radio service or critical infrastructure connectivity; or they can pursue a combination of any of these scenarios,” according to the draft order.
Beltway sources have said that public-safety representative have been advocating that the FCC pull the 4.9 GHz item from tomorrow’s agenda, but most acknowledged that such a delay is unlikely.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that the 4.9 GHz spectrum has been underutilized. In a recent filing with the FCC, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and several other public-safety organizations argued that first-responder representatives have proposed rules designed increased usage of the spectrum, but the FCC has ignored those proposals.
“Now, the commission is finally poised to act, but—rather than make the reasonable changes public safety asked for—the draft order will threaten public safety’s existing use of the band and prevent public-safety use from growing,” according to the APCO filing. “We thus respectfully request that you remove this item from the September open-meeting agenda and chart a different course.
“It would be a mistake to put state governments in a position to lease the 4.9 GHz spectrum for commercial purposes. This will effectively reallocate the 4.9 GHz band from public safety without explicitly admitting as much.”
According to the draft further notice, the FCC proposes to grandfather existing 4.9 GHz licenses, but this language is not included in the proposed order. This also applies to several other details of the proposed 4.9 GHz licensing regime—an approach that the APCO filing describes a “putting the cart before the horse.”
Meanwhile, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) said it believe that states are not equipped to implement spectrum policy in the manner contemplated by the proposed 4.9 rules.
“Our greatest concern is that the states do not have expertise in auctioning and sublicensing spectrum,” according to the IAFC’s ex parte filing.
“We are concerned that new users on the network may interfere with the operations of existing incumbent public-safety agencies. We also are concerned that the licenses of the existing public safety users on the 4.9 GHz band may not be protected. Local public-safety agencies have spent millions of dollars investing in networks on the 4.9 GHz band.”
APCO echoed this sentiment in its filing, noting a potential conflict between state and local governments.
“The commission should not put state governments in a position to dictate spectrum policy and effectively override investments made by public-safety agencies at county and local levels,” the APCO order states. “Under the draft order, a state entity that has never invested in 4.9 GHz could cash in by granting a statewide lease to a commercial entity—regardless of the opinion, investment, and use of 4.9 GHz at the county and local levels—and without any requirements to prioritize or avoid interfering with public-safety use.
“It’s one thing for the commission to permit state governments to cash a check at the expense of public-safety communications, but it’s an entirely different matter to permit state governments to dictate this to county and local public-safety entities.”
Probably the highest-profile alternative to the FCC’s draft order for the 4.9 GHz spectrum is a proposal from the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA), which has called for the 50 MHz swath to be controlled by the FirstNet Authority board that heads the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) being built by AT&T.
This notion was supported by many individuals filing comments with the FCC, but a Verizon filing claims that the FCC lacks any basis for implementing the PSSA proposal.
In an ex parte filing to the FCC, a Verizon official noted “Verizon’s opposition to late-filed proposals by some parties that have recently suggested an assignment of the 4.9 GHz band to FirstNet and its partner AT&T. The Commission provided no notice of, and has no meaningful record to support, that approach, and Congress has provided no authority to support such an assignment of valuable spectrum. We support the draft order’s rejection of that approach.”
T-Mobile also expressed support of the FCC’s draft order on the 4.9 GHz band.
In contrast, AT&T said it opposes the draft order but did not address the PSSA proposal.
“AT&T believes that adoption of the draft items would be unlikely to lead to more efficient use of the 4.9 GHz band and could instead result in further fragmentation of the band,” according to AT&T’s ex parte filing with the FCC.
Neither Motorola Solution nor L3Harris—two of the most prominent public-safety-communications vendors in the U.S.—filed comments with the FCC about the 4.9 GHz proposal.