The Federal Communications Commission has granted the Fire Department of New York expanded access to low-band spectrum in the New York metro area for public safety communications. The T-Band use will allow FDNY to expand capacity and coverage of its existing T-Band network to support emergency medical dispatch communications, according to the federal agency. It was granted under special temporary authority (STA) until June 10 for spectrum at 483.11875 and 483.14375 MHz, although the time period could be extended.
“During this national crisis, public safety communications—including the ability to dispatch first responders using emergency radios—are more critical than ever,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “This additional spectrum access will help ensure that New York’s emergency communications networks do not become overwhelmed and can continue to work smoothly. We are granting use of additional frequencies to help New York City’s heroic first responders carry out their life-saving work.”
The COVID-19 pandemic could have implications for T-Band usage beyond a temporary STA. Eight senators recently sent a letter to U.S. Senate leadership asking that a previously introduced bill, the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, be included in the next coronavirus relief package. The act would repeal a provision in existing law that requires the FCC to auction the T-Band by February 2021 and for existing users to relocate their communications operations.
Because of that requirement, the letter said, “Public safety departments throughout the nation have been forced to begin making costly plans to move off the T-Band in a time when their valuable time and resources are needed to fight an evolving public health crisis. … Preserving access to the T-Band is nothing short of a public safety imperative, and Congress has erred in not repealing the auction mandate in responses to the coronavirus thus far. It is past time to act on behalf of our first responders.”
There are eleven metropolitan areas where T-band spectrum is in use: New York City and northeastern New Jersey; Los Angeles and San Francisco/Oakland, Calif.; Chicago, Ill.; Boston, Mass.; Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth, Tex.; Miami, Fla.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Penn.; and the greater Washington, D.C., area including parts of Maryland and Virginia.
The FCC has said in the past that there are more than 900 public safety agencies that hold T-Band licenses, including the largest police and fire departments in the nation. Users – including TV channels, public safety and business and industrial users — have been maintaining their operations under existing rules, but for the most part, could not expand their operations. The T-band spectrum has been a point of contention, because as part of the establishment of FirstNet and the allocation of Band 14 spectrum for a national public safety network, the T-band is supposed to be auctioned by the FCC by early 2021 and existing public safety users are supposed to relocate operations out of that spectrum — which they have hotly protested.
In a 2016 ex parte filing, representatives of New York City’s Emergency Management agency, NYFD NYPD and the city’s IT department expressed to the FCC that NYC first responders are “heavily and completely reliant on mission critical voice communications in the 470-512 MHz public safety spectrum. First responders use the spectrum every day, all day” and that it is used for 911 dispatching and is “fully integrated into 911 platforms and below ground mass transit systems.” The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act was first introduced last year.