WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission last week issued service rules for using spectrum by local and state public-safety agencies, which included doubling the amount of spectrum available to some agencies.
However, some key cities, such as Los Angeles, will not benefit from the FCC’s action because the rules protect spectrum occupied today by TV stations.
The spectrum plan adopted by the FCC allocates 12 megahertz of spectrum for public-safety use in the 700 MHz band (located at 764-806 MHz). This 12 megahertz is divided into three segments: two for narrowband operations (6.25, 12.5 or 25 kilohertz) and one for wideband operations (50, 100, or 150 kilohertz). Channels are designated as general use, interoperability or subject to NPRM (referring to the notice of proposed rule making also adopted by the FCC last week). The three categories are interspersed within each segment to reduce interference and equipment costs.
The service rules designate some spectrum for nationwide interoperability among local, state and federal entities. Interoperability is a big issue in the public-safety community since when disasters occur, public-safety agencies have found they cannot talk to each other.
The FCC also is exploring other ways to solve the interoperability question. In an NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on whether it should designate five interoperability channels in the existing public-safety bands below 512 MHz, whether it should redesignate three frequency pairs in the 156-162 MHz band for interoperability in 33 economic areas, and whether the 138-144 MHz band should be designated for public-safety use generally and interoperability specifically.
The 138-144 MHz spectrum band was identified by the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee as prime spectrum for public-safety use because some agencies already use it. However, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration recently released the band as part of a congressional order that NTIA turn over 20 megahertz of federal spectrum to be auctioned.
Hence, there is some confusion as to whether the FCC unilaterally could give this spectrum to public safety without congressional blessing. The NPRM specifically asks whether Congress needs to redesignate this spectrum.
The service rules specifically protect incumbent TV stations broadcasting over channels 63, 64, 68 and 69. It is unclear exactly what form this protection will take. “The protection criteria is very specific in the item,” said Daniel Phythyon, chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. Phythyon would not elaborate, saying the wireless bureau still was editing the item.
Approximately 30 analog TV stations and 11 digital TV stations occupy channels 63, 64, 68, and 69 today. The DTV stations are part of the conversion process where broadcasters were loaned another channel to convert to digital technology. At the end of the conversion, one channel will be returned to the FCC and auctioned for other uses.
Since analog channels 60-69 have been unpopular for TV broadcasts, they have been slated for public-safety use and auction prior to the complete DTV conversion. Twenty-four megahertz will be used by public-safety agencies and 36 megahertz will be auctioned.
The conversion is set to be completed by 2006, but there is some doubt that will occur because broadcasters don’t have to relinquish their analog spectrum until they reach a penetration rate of at least 80 percent of views watch TV via broadcasts over the digital spectrum.
In other action, the FCC adopted a notice of inquiry into the current state of advanced technologies and what actions, if any, the FCC should take to assist the deployment of advanced technologies to Americans in a reasonable and timely manner. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directed the FCC to undertake this examination two-and-one-half years following enactment. The FCC said it will report its findings within six months. The FCC specifically asked for a definition of advanced telecommunications services and what it can do to encourage rapid deployment of these services.