TR Daily Public Safety Asks FCC to Pull 4.9 GHz Band Item from Sept. 30 Agenda
Monday, September 21, 2020

Public Safety Asks FCC to Pull 4.9 GHz Band Item from Sept. 30 Agenda

A slew of public safety groups asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today to pull his draft 4.9 gigahertz band item from the agency's Sept. 30 meeting agenda, saying it would be bad for public safety.

The draft report and order would allow states to lease the 50 megahertz allocated to public safety in the 4.9 GHz band to commercial and other entities (TR Daily, Sept. 9). A companion seventh further notice of proposed rulemaking would propose new licensing rules for the band. The item has drawn criticism and concern from public safety and wireless industry entities, and there has been some speculation that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai might not get three votes for it.

"For more than a decade, the public safety community has asked the Commission for reasonable changes to the 4.9 GHz rules that would help public safety make more effective, reliable, and increased use of the band. Clearly believing that the 4.9 GHz band is needed for meeting mission-critical requirements, public safety convened task forces and special committees, and submitted multiple public comments with the Commission. Yet the Commission ignored public safety's requests without explanation, issuing multiple notices of proposed rulemakings rather than making the needed regulatory changes. Now, the Commission is finally poised to act but - rather than make the reasonable changes public safety asked for - the draft Order will threaten public safety's existing use of the band and prevent public safety use from growing. We thus respectfully request that you remove this item from the September Open Meeting agenda and chart a different course," 10 groups said in an ex parte filing in WP docket 07-100.

"It would be a mistake to put state governments in a position to lease the 4.9 GHz spectrum for commercial purposes. This will effectively reallocate the 4.9 GHz band from public safety without explicitly admitting as much," the groups added. "Moreover, the Commission should not put state governments in a position to dictate spectrum policy and effectively override investments made by public safety agencies at county and local levels. Under the draft Order, a state entity that has never invested in 4.9 GHz could cash in by granting a statewide lease to a commercial entity, regardless of the opinion, investment, and use of 4.9 GHz at the county and local levels, and without any requirements to prioritize or avoid interfering with public safety use. It's one thing for the Commission to permit state governments to cash a check at the expense of public safety communications, but it's an entirely different matter to permit state governments to dictate this to county and local public safety entities.

"Not only does the draft Order run counter to the expressed positions of the public safety community, its plan for commercial leasing has no basis in the record in this proceeding," the groups continued. "The draft Order provides no explanation for how state governments will enter leasing agreements without threatening public safety use of the band. It's only in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that the Commission will explore important issues, such as the use of spectrum sharing mechanisms to prevent harmful interference to public safety. This is putting the cart before the horse. In the meantime, the FCC has frozen public safety from expanding use of the band while states will be free to flood the band with commercial use and collect lease revenue.

"The timing of this change would be particularly problematic given the multiple national and regional emergencies that first responders and 9-1-1 professionals are facing - the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented wildfires, a stream of powerful and destructive hurricanes, and civil protests - causing untold injury and death. And this would compound threats to public safety's use of other spectrum - the T-Band and 6 GHz," the groups complained. "Now is especially not the time to pull the needed 4.9 GHz band out of the hands of public safety officials."

The groups asked Mr. Pai to "remove the draft 4.9 GHz item from the September Open Meeting agenda and direct the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to consult with our organizations on a better path forward. Public safety's investment in 4.9 GHz and the future of this band to support public safety access to broadband technologies should not be abandoned."

Signing onto the filing were the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, National Association of State EMS Officials, National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, National Sheriffs' Association, and Western Fire Chiefs Association.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs submitted a separate filing today also calling for Mr. Pai to pull the item from the meeting agenda.

Among other things, it said that it "is concerned about how the state licensing scheme would affect cross-state interoperable communications. In many metropolitan areas, local public safety networks rely on regional networks that can cross-state lines. It is important that states consider these interstate public safety communications networks as they consider plans to sub-license the 4.9 GHz band," the IAFC added. "Finally, the IAFC respectfully questions the FCC's assertion that the 4.9 GHz band is under-utilized. With the geographical licensing scheme, it can be hard to determine exactly how many users are specifically operating under a 4.9 GHz license. Considering that major cities including New York City and Los Angeles have licenses on the 4.9 GHz band along with states such as Oregon and Tennessee, it seems that there may be more users on this band than are currently being counted. Also, the number of users on the 4.9 GHz band may be increasing."

In an ex parte filing posted today, the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance also asked that the item be pulled and said the FCC should "continue a thorough and thoughtful analysis of how the 4.9 GHz Band will be better utilized by public safety agencies, including on a fully prioritized basis, with appropriate security, rural build out requirements, and nationwide interoperability."

The PSSA added that "we believe the Commission should use history as a guide, and leverage the FirstNet Authority and the governance model it has implemented as directed by Congress and the support of this Commission, as a true example of a successful implementation of spectrum for use by public safety. We have a working model and have seen what has failed in the past. Public safety communications are too important to subject them to an untested experiment in spectrum management."

"While there is concern that the 4.9 GHz Band has been underutilized by public safety, this has not been due to a lack of interest or need for the spectrum, but rather the regulatory framework enabling its use," according to the PSSA's filing. "There are multiple public safety agencies reliant on this spectrum today, and more that would utilize such spectrum if the Commission revised the framework to make first responders' use more seamless and effective. In addition, we believe that the draft Order represents an unprecedented abdication of one of the Commission's core responsibilities—the management of non-federal spectrum, including spectrum used by non-federal public safety agencies. We respectfully disagree that the Commission spectrum management duties should be delegated to each individual State, especially when the States lack the Commission's expertise, especially with respect to addressing interference concerns."

"While the PSSA is supportive of efforts to continue to increase efficient and more prolific use of the 4.9 GHz Band, the proposed Report and Order falls significantly short in multiple areas: (i) it opens up the Band to non-public safety use without mandating any specific rules for ensuring continuous and guaranteed public safety use of the Band; (ii) it transfers full authority, management and allocation of the Band to states that have not identified anywhere in the record that they have the resources for or expertise in spectrum management and leasing (or in resolving interference concerns) to ensure full and efficient use of the spectrum by public safety or other entities; this would be particularly true outside of densely populated urban areas, where spectrum value is insufficient to spur the necessary technical investment without regulatory mandate or commercial incentives; (iii) it fails to mandate any rules or regulations to ensure non-interference among users of the Band, particularly for public safety use, which is required to enable fully mission critical communications, instead relying on the good faith, voluntary cooperation of commercial and other entities using the spectrum not to interfere in public safety operations; and (iv) there is a clear lack of established national governance of the spectrum or discussion of the technical, operational, and financial mechanisms to ensure interoperability, interference protection, open standards, security, and prioritized use by public safety, as well as coordination and prompt resolution of issues and disputes that may arise, both locally and between and among state and local jurisdictional boundaries. As this Commission is aware, public safety does not stop at the border and neither does the need for reliable, interoperable, interference-free mission critical communications," the PSSA argued.

"Given the foregoing and the further analysis below, it is clearly premature for the Commission to take steps to transfer the 4.9 GHz Band away from dedicated public safety use, to be managed discreetly on a state by state basis without consideration and mandates for protecting public safety's use of the spectrum on a nationwide basis, ensuring appropriate governance to maximize use of the spectrum in all geographies, including consideration of the relevant technical, operational and financial challenges and incentives, and with clear regulatory requirements regarding non-interference among users of the spectrum particularly to enable true mission critical use," the group added.

In another filing, the American Petroleum Institute said that allowing states to lease the spectrum to commercial, utility, and other entities should only be permitted in 20 to 30 MHz of the band, "with the remainder being set-aside for drones and robotics usage on a shared basis."

An FCC spokesperson defended the draft item today. "The ad-hoc sharing regime currently in the 4.9 GHz band has failed public safety with this prime mid-band spectrum being severely underused (only 3.5% of potential licensees are even using the spectrum) more than a decade after it was allocated," the spokesperson said. "The proposal on the agenda would empower states to put the spectrum to its highest and best use, including for public safety, allowing new partnerships with electric utilities, First Net, and commercial operators to increase the usage of this spectrum for all Americans." —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation PublicSafety WirelessDeployment

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