WASHINGTON-Despite congressional mandates that have put the Federal Communications Commission on a regulatory timeline, the commission should plan on a long, slow haul on its road to further develop 800 MHz specialized mobile radio systems. Changes in regulatory treatment and implementation of auction procedures are not being embraced by the majority of commenters responding to the FCC’s second further notice of proposed rulemaking, introduced last December.
Apart from the now-united SMR concerns-Nextel Communications Inc., Ericsson Inc., the American Mobile Telecommunications Association and the Personal Communications Industry Association-that advocate the commission’s plans to open additional channels to SMRs (including 150 General Category frequencies), most of the respondents are concerned over the commission taking such an “auction first, ask questions later” stance on spectrum management.
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International Inc. skipped the comment cycle and filed a petition for reconsideration regarding the further NPRM, saying that the proposed reallocation “closes off an important source of radio spectrum for public-safety agencies … with existing systems operating on General Category frequencies.”
APCO wrote that, at minimum, existing licensees should continue to have access to 800 MHz spectrum for expansion, adding, “Commercial entities should be making room for public safety, not vice versa.” The public-safety group, which recently lost an Appeals Court decision regarding relocation into the 2 GHz band, also protested any thought of relocation off General Category channels, mostly because the commission has not found any place to relocate non-SMR incumbents.
In its comments, The Telecommunications Association (formerly the Utilities Telecommunications Council, or UTC), adamantly opposed any move to reallocate the General Category pool to SMR use only, along with any plans to auction such channels. The group, which also will submit a separate petition for reconsideration regarding this proposal, cited the “voracious channel appetite of speculative commercial radio operators” as one reason the pool should continue to exist for non-SMRs as a way to gain much-needed channels for “essential systems” in a spectrum-choked world.
UTC also disagreed with the concept of using channel counts as a reason to give additional frequencies to SMRs at the expense of non-SMRs. “Under the liberal licensing policies that the commission has had in place for commercial mobile radio operators, SMRs could request as many channels as they wanted on a speculative basis without regard to a demonstration of actual need,” it wrote. “These records do not indicate actual demand or system usage, nor do license counts necessarily reflect the public interest in allocating additional spectrum for commercial use at the expense of public safety/public service.”
Supporting UTC and going even further were the Industrial Telecommunications Association and the Telephone Maintenance Frequency Advisory Committee. In joint comments, both wrote, “In the space of 16 months, the commission has fundamentally reversed its view of the General Category channels. In 1994, the commission noted that these channels are not subject to competitive bidding. Now, the 800 MHz decision and proposal reflects a pronounced predisposition toward auctioning [them].”
In addition, ITA and TMFAC questioned the commission’s decision to protect incumbent SMRs from any mandatory relocation “while non-SMR licensees may be required to relocate” off General Category and the lower 80 800 MHz SMR channels.
Two utilities-Entergy Services and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.-received waivers to expand their systems by using General Category channels that now are pivotal to the operation of their internal communications networks. Entergy is working to license the same channels across its four-state area. “Without access to this spectrum,” Entergy wrote, “the Entergy 800 MHz land mobile radio system could be devastated.” Both companies said existing commercial networks are not set up to meet their “highly redundant, wire-area” needs.
Keller Communications Inc., a small Dallas-based sales and service company, told the commission to consider auctioning unused UHF television channels and government spectrum before touching General Category frequencies. “It makes absolutely no sense to disrupt ongoing operations in a mature band, where spectrum efficiency is not going to result. The only possible reason for the instant proposal is to obtain government revenue.”
According to one commenter, the commission cannot even cite congressional need for its further NPRM. Eucke Warren of Sierra Electronics in Sparks, Nev., wrote, “Not one of the senators or representatives I have spoken with personally has ever expressed that the 800 MHz auction, as it appears to be developing, was what was intended by the passage of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reform Act of 1993. In fact, when I speak to them, they are dismayed by the implications of the FCC’s current actions.”