The latest volley in the microwave relocation debate comes from the Personal Communications Industry Association, which is proposing a maximum cap of $250,000 per microwave link moved, plus $150,000 if new tower construction is necessary.
PCIA made the suggestion in a cost-sharing proposal submitted to the Federal Communications Commission offered in support of a Pacific Bell Mobile Services petition the FCC put out for comment.
The Pac Bell petition outlined cost-sharing requirements; PCIA’s proposal suggests some modifications to the plan. Companies signing off on the PCIA document are Pac Bell, Ameritech Corp., Omnipoint Corp., American Personal Communications, Western PCS Corp. and BellSouth Wireless Inc.
FCC rules require new licensees for personal communications services in the 2 GHz band to pay for the relocation of microwave operators currently on the band. Two-year voluntary talks began in April between A and B block licensees and microwave entities. Participants have discovered gaps in the rules and have identified issues that need further definition, the FCC said.
“The emerging technology dockets were decided before the final PCS rules were made,” said Rosalind Allen, chief of the FCC’s Commercial Wireless Division. “We are seeking a comprehensive proceeding. There are important details that need to be clarified,” Allen said.
Allen isn’t the only one seeking clarification. The Utilities Telecommunications Council and attorneys representing microwave interests are concerned about suggestions PCIA made in a letter to Regina Keeney with the goal of clearing up “procedural uncertainties.
PCIA said new microwave authorizations to operate in PCS spectrum should not be given primary status because they add to the relocation process. But UTC attorney Tom Goode argued such flexibility is needed by microwave licensees. “Many incumbent systems will not be relocated in the short term and many systems may not be relocated at all. Incumbents on this spectrum must have the ability to make minor modifications to their systems over the years,” Goode said.
More direct was the response of attorney Jack Richards, who is assisting microwave users in relocation discussions. “The Commission already has resolved these issues*…*and PCIA has presented no reason why these decisions should be altered unilaterally by a bureau chief to the sole advantage of PCS licensees and their national trade association,” Richards wrote to Keeney.
Still, comments have been received on the Pac Bell petition and the FCC’s next step is to generate a notice of proposed rulemaking, Allen said.
There are 8,000 to 10,000 microwave links used throughout the country by utilities, oil companies, state and local governments and railroads. The initial two-year voluntary discussion period between PCS and microwave licensees will be followed by a one-year mandatory discussion period.
PCIA also has proposed that all spectrum blocks, not just A & B, should be able to begin clearing microwave links. Relocation of links in the C, D, E and F blocks may be necessary to deploy A and B block PCS service in many markets, PCIA stated.
Richards told the FCC that suggestion was meant to stop the clock rather than get it running. Such a move would artificially restrict the voluntary negotiation period for microwave incumbents, which would then be obliged to negotiate under mandatory rules.
“Obviously, PCIA is discontent with many of the Commission’s basic decisions regarding the implementation of PCS,” Richards said.
Microwave incumbents don’t have to leave the system during the first two years, nor do they have to stay. Just as there is no limit on how much money a microwave group can request to relocate, PCS entities are not prohibited from paying whatever it takes to clear their spectrum quickly.
PCIA President Jay Kitchen has expressed concern that microwave licensees will try to take advantage of the position of PCS licensees and that such situations could slow prompt relocation.
In PCIA’s cost-sharing proposal, the association outlines establishing a nonprofit, microwave relocation clearinghouse funded by the PCS industry. Cost-sharing payments would come from PCS interests benefiting from relocation. A cost-sharing obligation would be activated if a PCS provider’s system would cause harmful interference to, or receive interference from, a microwave link operation. Interference would be calculated using an industry-accepted standard. Designated entities and UTAM Inc. would be granted deferred payment options. UTAM is the frequency coordinator for unlicensed PCS spectrum.
Payments would be calculated using a formula derived by amortizing the cost of relocating a particular microwave link during a 10-year period. As PCS providers enter the market, their share of relocation costs would be adjusted to reflect the total number of PCS providers who benefit, and the time of market entry.
For cost-sharing purposes, the cost of relocating a link would be limited to $250,000, plus $150,000 if construction of a new tower is necessary. The cap would apply on a per link basis but would not account for repeater systems or system anomalies.
A PCS provider relocating a microwave link not operational in its PCS licensed frequency band would be entitled to 100 percent reimbursement by PCS entities that benefit, according to the proposal.
In what PCIA terms a “rough justice” approach designed to simplify the process, cost sharing would be required only for co-channel microwave links having end-points within a PCS entity’s authorized operating territory. Co-channel links would be defined as those with an overlap of licensed occupied bandwidth.
The obligation to share costs would “sunset” 10 years after the last PCS license is awarded by the FCC.
“Although the cap may result in some PCS providers absorbing the additional costs of relocating more expensive links, it gives PCS providers a strong incentive to control relocation costs responsibly,” PCIA said. The cap also protects PCS players that must make cost-sharing payments long after a link has been relocated without the benefit of negotiation participation.
Microwave licensees will benefit from cost sharing because it will facilitate relocation of entire microwave systems rather than links, and the cost-sharing mechanism will encourage PCS providers to relocate incumbents quickly and minimize disruption to incumbent’s operations, PCIA contended.