WASHINGTON-A government plan for personal communications services licensees to share microwave relocation costs has received qualified support from both carriers and fixed users, while providing the two warring factions a public forum to continue fighting.
The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal would enable initially licensed PCS operators, who must absorb the costs of moving microwave licensees from the 2 GHz band to higher frequencies, to be reimbursed by other PCS operators for fixed links relocated outside the microwave licensees service areas and/or spectrum block.
Firms most directly affected include the 18 that paid $7 billion for 99 licensees at the first PCS auction that ended last March and three companies that paid $700 million total for pioneer’s preference PCS licenses in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
So while winners of the entrepreneur block PCS auction that is scheduled to begin today may be spared nasty microwave relocation negotiations, they will not escape payment to earlier-licensed PCS firms in accordance with a proposed formula that caps at $250,000 per link the amount subject to reimbursement.
The cost could go up another $150,000 if an antenna tower must be built.
Wireless carriers assert some fixed microwave users are demanding exorbitant prices to be moved from the 2 GHz band, which was set aside for PCS.
The Personal Communications Industry Association said all microwave incumbents should be limited to a one-year mandatory negotiation period, warning that unless changes are made “the deployment of PCS could be substantially delayed and the PCS industry will be less competitive with other wireless services already available.”
The Sprint Telecommunications Venture, a partnership of No. 2 long-distance giant Sprint Corp. and three major cable TV operators that spent $2.1 billion for 29 PCS licenses, said “the abusive tactics of some microwave incumbents to profiteer using spectrum licenses issued to them free of charge as public trustees will, if left unchecked, stand in the way of bringing PCS to American consumers.”
But the FCC said it will not alter rules providing for a two-year negotiating period and one-year mandatory negotiating period for PCS firms and most microwave users to work out terms and conditions for relocating fixed licensees to comparable facilities.
There is a three-year voluntary negotiating period, followed by a two-year mandatory negotiating period where public safety microwave users are involved. However, there are differences of opinion as to what constitutes “comparable facilities” and “good faith” during mandatory negotiations.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International Inc. is pursuing litigation in federal appeals court that contends police, firefighters and emergency medical microwave users should not be forced to abandon the 2 GHz band.
Utility, railroad, petroleum, public safety and other microwave users assert allegations against them of abuses are overstated and inflammatory, part of a bargaining strategy by PCS firms to keep microwave relocation costs low.
“The existing framework was developed with extensive input from the incumbents, the PCS industry and Congress,” stated UTC, which represents electric, gas, water and steam utilities and natural gas pipelines. “There is no need to disrupt this carefully tailored framework simply to satisfy the financial desires of the commercial PCS licensees.”
Fixed users on the 2 GHz band generally oppose microwave relocation reimbursement caps and believe the FCC’s desire to relieve PCS operators of their obligation to provide comparable facilities to microwave incumbents by 2005 creates a disincentive for new pocket telephone firms to change out microwave equipment in rural areas, which likely will receive next-generation pocket telephone service last.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association urged the FCC to halt all co-primary microwave licensing in the 2 GHz band.