FCC Details Nextel 2 GHz Relocation plan

The FCC has released the Order (FCC 04-168) with details on how Nextel will be allowed to receive spectrum in the 1.9 GHz band, including part of the existing 2 GHz broadcast auxiliary band, if it meets specific obligations to return spectrum in the 800 MHz band to be used in a new band plan to eliminate interference to 800 MHz Public Safety communications, return spectrum it won in auction in the 700 MHz band and meet certain financial requirements.

The obligations include relocating broadcasters from the spectrum between 1990 and 2025 MHz. See RF Report for July 13, 2004 for a summary of the Order. Much of the 256 page Order, released Friday, August 6, is devoted to a new 800 MHz band plan, interference, and a discussion of how the FCC arrived at the conditions for awarding Nextel licenses in spectrum between 1910-1915 MHz and 1990-1995 MHz. In this spectrum, Fixed and Mobile services will be primary. Discussion of the broadcast auxiliary portion of the plan includes a history of the FCC's actions allocating 1990-2025 MHz to the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) and the Advanced Wireless Service (AWS).

The Order said it was not altering the underlying relocations rules established in its MSS Third Report and Order, but said it was modifying on reconsideration one aspect of the plan to allow Nextel to enter into the band and "to address BAS relocation issues raised in the petitions for reconsideration of the MSS Third R&O." The Order states, "By retaining the existing MSS relocation rules but also overlaying procedures by which Nextel may relocate BAS incumbents, we will be able to ensure the continuity of BAS during the transition. It is essential that we do so, because BAS is a critical part of the broadcasting system by which emergency information and entertainment content is provided to the American public. Therefore, we expect that Nextel and MSS licensees will work together to minimize the disruption BAS licensees will experience in the transition."

The procedures adopted by the Order closely match those in the MSTV, Nextel and NAB Joint Proposed Relocation Plan described in RF Report for May 11, 2004. The Order retains the Joint Relocation Plan's timing of individual market relocations, allowing Nextel to relocate all BAS incumbents in markets where it wants to deploy immediately and the important provision that Nextel will also relocate BAS incumbents in "adjacent markets that raise inter-market coordination and interference problems" Once these markets have been relocated, Nextel will relocate all remaining markets under the second stage of the plan. BAS licensees that haven't been relocated would be able to continue to use all seven channels in the old band plan until they have been relocated to the narrower seven channels in the 2025-2110 MHz band plan.

Nextel is required to file progress reports on the status of the transition, including identifying markets to be relocated under stage one and all remaining markets that will be relocated under stage two, within 12 and 24 months after the effective date of the Order. The Order requires Nextel to relocate all BAS incumbents within 30 months after the effective date of the Order. Nextel must relocate BAS incumbents in all markets it wants to serve, including markets 31 and above, prior to beginning operations in the 1.9 GHz band.

If MSS licensees want to enter the band before Nextel completes its nationwide clearing, they will be allowed to clear it earlier. According to the Order, "MSS licensees will retain the option of accelerating the clearing of those markets so that they could begin operations before Nextel has completed nationwide clearing. We recognize that the parties will have to work cooperatively to ensure a smooth transition for BAS incumbents. To facilitate this process, we will require Nextel to file with the Commission and copy the MSS licensees, within 30 days after the effective date of this Report and Order, its plan for the relocation of BAS operations in the markets that will be relocated during stage one (i.e., within eighteen months). MSS licensees will have 30 days to review the Nextel plan and identify to Nextel and the Commission which of the top 30 TV markets and fixed BAS operations, if any, they intend to invoke involuntary relocation. If MSS licensees choose not to trigger involuntary relocation, Nextel will proceed under its plan to relocate BAS incumbents."

The negotiation period between Nextel and BAS licenses will end May 31, 2005 for stage one relocations and March 31, 2006 for stage two relocations. "MSS licensees may voluntarily join in these negotiations in order to relocate BAS operations in markets 31 and above," according to the Order. "We encourage MSS licensees to work cooperatively with Nextel in these negotiations because all parties will collectively benefit from the expeditious relocation of BAS incumbents to the new band plan." MSS licensees will have to reimburse Nextel for their pro rata share of the relocation expenses. If MSS licensees trigger involuntary relocation or otherwise participate in the relocation process before Nextel completes nationwide clearing of the band, Nextel will have to reimburse the MSS licensee and for its pro rata share of the MSS licensees' relocation expenses.

As mentioned earlier, BAS licensees in TV markets 31-210 will not have to cease operations on Channels 1 and 2 until they have been relocated to the final channel plan. Unlike the original FCC plan, broadcasters in these markets would not have to cease operations on the lower two channels until after they had received compensation for their relocation. The only exception is if licensees in a market indicate that they do not wish to be relocated, in which case "they must immediately restrict their operations to the 2025-2110 MHz band.

The FCC addressed issues raised in SBE's request for clarification: "We clarify that Paragraph 58 does not alter the operation of Section 74.24(c), i.e., that any local TV pickup station will have primary status over any visiting TV pickup station, even if the local market as a whole or the individual local TV pickup station itself has not converted to the Phase II channel plan. We believe this outcome is consistent with the overall purpose of the short-term use rule, which will continue to operate after the BAS relocation is completed. Further, although we believe it would be best if all stations in a market agree to use the same channel plan, an individual station that chooses to remain on the old channel plan will be secondary to other stations within the same market that convert to the Phase II plan and also to any TV pickup station that has converted to the Phase II plan and is visiting the local market. This should encourage parties to convert to the final channel plan expeditiously."

More information is available in the 256 page Order (FCC 04-168). While I've covered most of the decisions affecting broadcasters here, readers may find the technical discussions of 800 MHz interference, the value of the spectrum and the benefits of 1.9 GHz over 2.1 GHz interesting.