07.20.2004 12:00 PM
FCC adopts plan to end interference in public safety band; broadcasters stand to benefit

The FCC unanimously adopted a plan July 8 that solves the interference problems of public safety radio users, such as police and firefighters, in the 800MHz band. At the same time, it promises to relieve broadcasters from financial uncertainty in vacating 2GHz BAS spectrum used for ENG as required by commission action last fall.

The plan, which has many similarities to a proposal submitted to the commission in November 2001 by Nextel, is a two-step solution to eliminating interference in the public safety band.

Step one: In the short term, the commission implemented objective standards, known as “Enhanced Best Practices” defining “unacceptable interference” to 800MHz public safety users and steps to remedying those problems.

Step two: In the long term, the commission will require Nextel to relinquish certain licensed spectrum in the 800MHz band and its entire 700MHz spectrum, which will free up 4.5MHz of 800MHz band for 90 new two-way channels for public safety use. Additionally, it will exchange that spectrum for two 5MHz blocks in the 2GHz band used by broadcasters for broadcast auxiliary service (BAS). That spectrum is 1910- to 1915MHz and 1990- to 1995MHz.

The plan calls for Nextel to fund the relocation of 800MHz band users as well as incumbents in the 2GHz band, namely broadcasters who will be displaced and require replacement microwave transmitters and receivers used for BAS.

Nextel will owe the U.S. Treasury a sum of money at the end of the process that will be based on straightforward reasoning. The value of the pieces of the 2GHz band that will be swapped is $4.8 billion, less the cost of incumbent relocation, according to the FCC. Nextel will be credited the value of the 800MHz spectrum it is vacating and the actual cost of relocating 800MHz incumbents. The difference between the value of the 2GHz band that’s vacated and the Nextel credit will be the amount the company pays the Treasury upon completion of the relocation process.

On the surface, the plan may solve the problems of firefighters, police and rescue workers frustrated with growing interference on their two-way radios and provide a convenient way for broadcasters to assure that they will recoup the cost of their 2GHz BAS equipment. However, the plan isn’t without its opponents.

Verizon Wireless objects to the plan and contends that it violates criminal law. Verizon has argued that by law the 5MHz segments of bandwidth in the 1910- to 1915MHz and 1990- to 1995MHz spectrum must be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

For his part, FCC Chairman Michael Powell acknowledged the legal risks involved with the plan.

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