TR Daily Public Safety Entities, WISPs Disagree on Use of 4.9 GHz Band
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Monday, July 9, 2018

Public Safety Entities, WISPs Disagree on Use of 4.9 GHz Band

A number of public safety entities say the FCC is underestimating public safety use of the 4.9 gigahertz band, and they urged the agency to retain the spectrum for public safety use, with sharing permitted with critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities. Most oppose making the frequencies available to commercial providers. CII groups also support access to the spectrum, citing their growing spectrum needs, as do private enterprise and alarm industry entities.

For their part, wireless Internet service providers say the Commission should permit commercial operators to share the spectrum on a secondary basis.

The comments were filed in WP docket 07-100 in response to a sixth further notice of proposed rulemaking seeking views on ways to promote more intensive use of the 4940–4990 megahertz band (TR Daily, March 22). Republican FCC Commissioners emphasized the potential benefit of repurposing the spectrum for commercial purposes, or at least opening it to up to additional usage, saying the spectrum has not been heavily used since the Commission made it available for public safety in 2002.

A fact sheet on the item noted that it (1) proposes “to expand the channel aggregation bandwidth limit to 40 megahertz”; (2) proposes “to allow public safety aeronautical mobile and robotic use on 5 megahertz of spectrum”; (3) proposes “to require applicants for new stations and licensees seeking modifications to submit to frequency coordination administered by FCC-certified frequency coordinators”; (4) proposes “to maintain the Universal Licensing System to serve as the frequency coordination database and modify the 4.9 GHz band application form to capture additional data”; (5) proposes “to require existing licensees with point-to-point, point-to-multipoint, base, and mobile stations to seek licenses for such stations in the database so their operations can be protected during future coordination”; (6) proposes “to restart the filing process for regional plans”; (7) proposes “to accord primary status for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint links that carry or support narrowband traffic on five 1-megahertz channels”; (8) proposes “to raise the minimum antenna gain for point-to-point transmitting antennas to 26 dBi to allow for more directional transmissions and larger antennas”; (9) proposes “to revise the construction notification deadlines from 18 months after license grant to 12 months”; (10) proposes “to grandfather existing licensees and their installed systems”; (11) seeks “comment on alternative eligibility for entities such as Critical Infrastructure Industries”; and (12) seeks “comment on leasing, spectrum sharing approaches, and alternative uses.”

Regarding eligibility to use the spectrum, the FCC wants comment on alternative eligibility and spectrum sharing approaches, noting that a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) plan that proposed expanding co-primary status eligibility to CII entities (TR Daily, Oct. 24, 2014). The item seeks comments on extending eligibility to CII entities, leasing, two-tiered sharing on a secondary basis, and other alternatives.

In its comments, NPSTC said it “supports managed sharing of the band with Critical Industries Infrastructure (CII) entities and opposes reallocation and auction of the band for commercial use. Reallocation of the band would be very detrimental to public safety and likely would not be very productive for commercial carriers. The Commission’s calculation that no more than 3.5% of the potential licensees use the band apparently has created the misimpression that very little of the band’s capacity is in use, an inaccurate picture of the current public safety reliance on the band.

“The Commission’s 3.5% calculation suffers from the inclusion of over 50,000 school districts and special districts that would overlap the almost 40,000 local and state entities also counted. In reality, the 4.9 GHz spectrum is licensed by state and/or local entities in almost every state in the U.S. Just the states alone that hold licenses in the band cover a total population 138 million, and there is additional population served by public safety in localities outside of the states that also hold licenses,” NPSTC added. “In addition, as addressed in these comments, there are two types of licensing, site-specific licenses for permanent point-to-point operations and geographic licenses that cover a licensee’s entire jurisdiction for the entire band. Fixed point-to-point sites have experienced a 31% increase over the past three years. As geographic licenses do not include site information, increases in the facilities used under those licenses could have increased as well, but it is impossible to determine that from the ULS database.

“More importantly than statistics, the 4.9 GHz band supports a number of types of public safety operations as addressed in sample vignettes of usage by several states, localities and U.S. territories included in these comments. In addition to current uses of 4.9 GHz, NPSTC also set forth how this spectrum can be instrumental in supporting emerging technologies beneficial to public safety, including aeronautical, both manned and unmanned (UAS), robotics and the public safety Internet of Tings (PS IoT),” the filing said. “NPSTC has provided additional information on each of these types of emerging uses and the additional need for the 4.9 GHz spectrum they bring.”

NPSTC said it “has also addressed many of the technical and licensing improvement issues raised in the Sixth FNPRM. These include the need for more specific information in the data base related to geographic licenses, as well as increased frequency coordination and provisions for regional planning committee involvement.”

Regarding sharing of the band, NPSTC noted that in the national plan for the 4.9 GHz band it submitted in 2013, the federation “recommended that the 4.9 GHz band be opened to Critical Infrastructure Industry (CII) users on a frequency-coordinated and phased-in basis. NPSTC recommended that two of the 5 MHz channels be made available for CII immediately upon a Commission decision on modifying the rules and that three years later, the entire 4.9 GHz band be opened to CII. NPSTC stands by that recommendation.”

“Public safety’s dedicated access to the 4.9 GHz band must be preserved,” agreed the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO). “Public safety is using the 4.9 GHz band to support localized, bandwidth-intensive applications for mission critical use cases. Other spectrum and wireless broadband options available to public safety are not substitutes for the 4.9 GHz band, which is uniquely-suited for existing use cases and presents opportunities for innovation. The Commission should not abandon its goal of ensuring that ‘public safety enjoys maximum access to emerging broadband technologies.’”

APCO continued, “The Commission can take immediate steps to help public safety take greater advantage of the 4.9 GHz band. APCO and others have recommended numerous changes. Key among these is for the Commission to require frequency coordination to provide public safety with the confidence that communications will be reliable and free from interference. Frequency coordination should be limited to certified public safety pool coordinators. Additional changes to increase flexibility will further encourage investment by public safety. Rather than adopt a band plan, the Commission should permit public safety frequency coordinators flexibility, both in terms of channel assignment and power limits, to maximize efficient use of the spectrum.”

APCO said the FCC “should make clear that the 4.9 GHz band will be preserved for public safety use, but continue to pursue options to spur use of the band. APCO is open to exploring a sharing framework for this band that would allow use for non-public safety purposes, provided a proven sharing mechanism is in place that ensures priority and preemption for public safety users. Public safety agencies should not be put in a position to lease or otherwise put a price on their use of the 4.9 GHz band.”

APCO said it “does not support providing CII with co-primary or notice-based access to the 4.9 GHz band as the NPSTC plan contemplates. Instead, the Commission should expand eligibility to CII with the conditions that 1) use is only for communications related to the protection of life, safety, and property, as opposed to general business purposes, and 2) CII use is secondary and preemptible by public safety agencies. These conditions would be consistent with Commission precedent. … APCO also opposes expanding eligibility to all private internal systems and alarm companies. Unlike general business users, CII entities such as railroads and utilities may work alongside public safety agencies as part of an emergency response. Application for use of this spectrum by CII entities should be subject to the same frequency coordination and licensing requirements as any other user in the space, consistent with APCO’s recommendations for flexible use across the band, and coordinated by public safety coordinators.”

APCO also said that the FCC should permit unmanned aerial system use of the band, permit spectrum aggregation up to 50 MHz, ensure that power limits maximize spectral efficiency and broadband applications, and according primary status to point-to-point and point-to-multipoint operations.

The National Regional Planning Council (NRPC) said it “supports the efforts of the Commission to amend the rules to help foster increased use of the 4.9 [GHz] band by public safety. The band holds the potential for meeting public safety broadband needs for a number of different purposes however the current rules leave too much uncertainty for public safety to fully embrace its use. Additionally, we feel that the current licensing rules have led to confusion where agencies with jurisdictional licenses have implemented permanent fixed systems, including point to point links, believing that their jurisdictional license granted them that authority. We feel that this licensing confusion has resulted in a licensing record that is not truly reflective of the actual use of the band by public safety. We feel that there are many more systems in use than the record seems to indicate. The proposed rules should help identify these systems and update the commissions licensing record to accurately reflect the actual use of the band. On the whole the NRPC agrees with the Commission’s proposed rule changes. The NRPC urges the Commission to uphold the current rules that retain the band as a public safety band. To implement rules that add uncertainty in the long term use and viability of the band for public safety uses would be detrimental to promoting increased public safety use, and would likely have the opposite effect.”

The state of Maryland said it “believes that the FCC has identified and proposed many good modifications to its rules governing the 4.9 GHz band. Of significant importance to Maryland’s first responders, we believe that the 4.9 GHz band should continue to support public safety communications as a primary spectrum resource. Notwithstanding our support for primary public safety use, it is likely that secondary use of the spectrum may be possible in some areas of the country through improved frequency coordination.”

The Public Safety Communications Council (PSCC), a federation of FCC-certified public safety frequency coordinators, said, “We believe that the NPSTC proposal forms a great basis for enhancement of public safety use of the band and opens the door for CII operations in an appropriately limited fashion. We urge the Commission to continue to allocate this band for public safety use with perhaps additional sharing under the direct control of a public safety licensee. The PSCC does not support further opening of licensing eligibility or reallocation of the band to commercial carriers.”

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (ASSHTO) said its “members express categorical opposition to redesignation of the 4.9GHz band to support commercial wireless use. As stated earlier, more than half of the state DOTs utilize FCC Part-90 regulated wireless services (including 4.9 GHz band) for last-mile ITS device communications. Examples of critical ITS devices include Variable Message Signs, Closed Circuit Television cameras, Road Weather Information Systems, Highway Advisory Radios, Traffic Signal Control, and Variable Speed Limit Signs, among others, all of which are a critical part of traveler information and traffic incident management systems. Further, as Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) become more prevalent, the bandwidth requirements to support safety-critical Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications increases. AASHTO members thus see a great need to preserve the 4.9 GHz band for public safety purposes.”

AASHTO also said it supports the PSCC’s positions, including the NPSTC band plan, coordination of the band by current frequency coordinators, individual coordination and licensing of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint operations, the enabling of CII access to the band pursuant to the NPSTC proposal, and opposition of business enterprise and alarm industry requests for access to the band.

Some localities also filed comments stressing the importance of the 4.9 GHz band to their public safety operations.

For example, New York City said it “is heavily reliant on the 4.9GHz band for mission-critical communications and has a substantial investment in the current infrastructure. As such, the City concurs with the 6FNPRM recommendation that existing licensees be ‘grandfathered’ and not be required to modify their 4.9 GHz systems.”

“The Commission should consider authorizing 4.9GHz geographic licensees to enter into spectrum lease agreements with Critical Infrastructure Industries (CII) or commercial entities to fund the construction of local 4.9GHz network that serve both public safety and the CII or commercial entity, while providing priority access to public safety users,” the city added. “Alternatively, the Commission should authorize 4.9 GHz geographic licensees to enter into lease agreements with CII or commercial entities and utilize revenue generated by such a lease agreement to invest in public safety communications projects within their jurisdiction[.]”

The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) said it “uses 4.9 GHz frequencies for public safety purposes and plans to implement a Communications Based Train Control (‘CBTC’) system (currently in the procurement process) throughout its geographic licensed area. BART supports the FCC's plan to ‘grandfather’ existing licenses and wants to retain authority to implement its CBTC system.” BART added that it “supports Commission efforts to ensure that public safety continues to be a top priority for the 4.9 GHz band. BART needs protection from harmful interference, and does not support licensing any ‘co-primary’ or secondary users in its operational area, or within two (2) miles of its operations. BART seeks full and flexible use of band aggregation plans. BART suggests it be assigned a specific geographic footprint for its public safety train control uses.”

In joint comments, the Utilities Technology Council (UTI), the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the GridWise Alliance urged the FCC “to expand eligibility in the 4.9 GHz band to include utilities and other critical infrastructure industries (CII), as defined within the Commission’s rules. UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise support the band plan submitted by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC Band Plan), which recommends that the Commission expand eligibility to include utilities and other CII. UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise submit that expanding eligibility to include utilities and other CII will promote more effective use of the band, and will also serve the public interest in promoting the safe, reliable, and secure delivery of essential electric, gas and water services. This proceeding comes at a critical time in the history of the utility industry, and the FNPRM represents a significant opportunity for the Commission to advance energy policy and overarching national security goals by providing access to spectrum for utilities and other CII.”

“Utilities and other CII lack access to additional spectrum to meet their increasing communications needs, and the existing spectrum bands these entities use are subject to increasing congestion and interference — and potential wholesale reallocation — due to other communications which are incompatible with utility operations. By comparison, sharing the 4.9 GHz band between utilities and public safety would be complementary and promote synergies that the Commission recognized as part of its National Broadband Plan,” according to the CII groups. “Utility use of the band would support public safety, particularly in the aftermath of hurricanes and other natural disasters when restoration of electric, gas and water services is necessary to protect the health and safety of the public at large and to enable police, fire and rescue to perform their public safety missions. UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise agree with public safety that the Commission should not convert the 4.9 GHz band for use by commercial communications service providers because doing so would threaten to diminish the reliability of the band, which would in turn discourage investment by utilities and public safety and indeed effectively displace them from the band as a practical matter.”

UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise also said they “support several of the technical proposals in the further rulemaking that are designed to increase the potential use of the 4.9 GHz band. Specifically, UTC, EEI, NRECA, and GridWise support the Commission’s proposals to increase the size of the channels and the permissible power of operations in the band, which will enable utilities and others to use the band for longer links and higher capacity communications, particularly in rural areas where the 4.9 GHz band is currently underused and utilities need to use it to communicate with critical assets.”

In joint comments, the telecommunications subcommittee of the American Petroleum Institute and the Regulatory and Technology and Technology Committee of the Energy Telecommunications and Electrical Association said that 20 MHz of the 4.9 GHz band should be made available for manned and unmanned drones and robotic systems.

Southern Company Services, Inc., said it “continues to support an expansion of eligibility for the 4.9 GHz band to include utilities and other Critical Infrastructure Industries (‘CII’) as co-primary licensees. There are a number of reasons why the 4.9 GHz band has not been used to its greatest potential, and most of those were identified years ago. Giving utilities access to this important spectrum resource will help them fulfill their public safety/public service obligations, and will promote a common equipment ecosystem to drive down equipment costs and stimulate investment through economies of scale – two of the Commission’s stated goals for this proceeding. Southern recommends that expanded eligibility be afforded to entities that meet the definition of ‘public safety radio services’ in Section 309(j)(2) of the Communications Act. The Commission previously determined that this term includes electric, gas, and water utilities because they have extensive infrastructure that is used to provide essential services to the public at large; reliability and availability of communications systems for these entities are necessary to prevent and respond to disasters or crises affecting the public at large.”

Nokia said it “appreciates NPSTC’s proposal to extend primary access to the 4.9 GHz band to CII, and agrees with this proposal in many respects. Nokia differs with NPSTC, however, in that we believe that CII should gain immediate co-primary access to 20 MHz of spectrum (not 10 MHz as proposed by NPSTC). Given the nature of the CII segments (e.g., Utility, Oil/Gas, Transportation), the use of 4.9 GHz would geographically overlap. Due to security concerns and requirements within CII segments, it is unlikely for these different segments to use the same spectrum in the same area. Therefore, we envision the 20 MHz being partitioned into multiple, exclusive 5 MHz–10 MHz blocks that could be used by different CII segments.”

Nokia added that it “further supports the American Petroleum Institute’s request that CIIs be permitted to use the band for any purpose, not just in support of public safety. By eliminating the requirement that the band be used for public safety services by CII users, the Commission will facilitate increased use of the band, lowering equipment costs, encouraging wider-spread deployment and facilitating the other benefits of CII access to the band. … Nokia also agrees with NPSTC’s proposal to preserve for a period of time public safety’s licensing priority in the remainder of the band. In particular, Nokia agrees with NPSTC’s proposal to preserve public safety’s licensing priority for three years, but allow CII to seek access on a notice basis.”

Nokia said that “the Commission should also allow public safety licensees to lease 4.9 GHz spectrum capacity to CII” entities and should work to harmonize its technical rules with 3GPP 5G specifications for the spectrum.

“This spectrum has been allocated for public safety operations for a substantial amount of time, and the FCC has questioned whether it is being used as intensively as anticipated or for the types of applications intended. The Commission has an ongoing affirmative obligation either to assure itself that spectrum it has allocated is supporting an appropriate level of usage, or to adopt rule changes intended to promote greater utilization,” said the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA). “EWA has participated in multiple previous stages of this proceeding. It consistently has taken the position that allowing private enterprise users primary access to a significant portion of the allocation will benefit both those users and public safety entities. Extending eligibility to companies engaged in transportation, agricultural, manufacturing, heavy construction, and other major business activities, along with utilities and oil and gas producers, will create a much larger ecosystem of prospective users and usages, and thereby incentivize the development of equipment and applications for the band. This, in turn, will serve the public interest, since this spectrum will be used more intensively for purposes such as securing the nation’s electric grid, fortifying its infrastructure, streamlining its manufacturing facilities, and modernizing its farm operations, in addition to addressing public safety requirements. As discussed below, the Alliance urges the Commission to broaden the eligibility criteria for this spectrum, but not open it for commercial use, and to adopt rules consistent with the efficient management of this allocation.”

EWA said that private enterprise users have primary access to the spectrum, and it reiterated that the FCC should “adopt coordination rules for this band that mirror those applicable to Sprint-vacated [800 MHz band] spectrum. All qualified FACs should be permitted to process applications for any entity eligible to operate in the band. At a minimum, non-public safety FACs must be authorized to handle applications from non-public safety entities to ensure that all qualified applicants receive comparable access to this spectrum. Further, EWA agrees with the Commission that there would be no need for a five-day review period of applications by public safety Regional Planning Committees (‘RPCs’).”

“The Commission has proposed to allow public safety entities one year to provide the site-based information needed to allow FACs to protect their operational facilities from subsequently filed applications. This seems to EWA to be an overly generous period,” the filing added. “Public safety organizations identify themselves as the optimum managers of public safety wireless networks. Consequently, public safety entities that are operating 4.9 GHz facilities should have their site-specific information reasonably available. The Alliance cannot imagine why it would take up to 365 days to submit the same type of information that they file routinely for other systems that they operate, particularly since they now are on notice that they will need to do so at some future date. In EWA’s opinion, 60 days from the date that the FCC releases a public notice announcing the filing window should be ample to complete that task.

“Finally, while EWA would not object to a public safety licensee that has built and operated a 4.9 GHz system leasing some or all of its spectrum to another public safety entity, it would oppose extending the leasing option to commercial or even business enterprise users,” EWA said. “Creating an arbitrage opportunity for public safety entities to acquire spectrum for the purpose of leasing it, rather than utilizing it for public safety operations, defeats the purpose of designating spectrum for public safety use in the first place.”

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee said it “supports the expansion of eligibility for access and use of the 4.9 GHz bands, for commercial entities that provide public safety-related services. This approach would achieve expanded use of the spectrum by activities consistent with its public safety purpose, while mitigating concerns of congestion and license exhaustion. Further expansion of eligibility should be explored only after the results of this more limited first step are known.”

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said it “strongly urges amendment of the Commission’s eligibility rules to enable and promote efficient sharing of the 4.9 GHz band by public safety users on a primary basis and by commercial users on a secondary basis. As discussed herein, this two-tiered sharing approach will facilitate increased use of the 4.9 GHz band and encourage a more robust market for equipment and greater innovation, while protecting primary public safety users from interference. Of the alternatives discussed in the FNPRM, two-tiered sharing will best ‘promote more opportunistic use of the 4.9 GHz band without compromising the integrity and security of public safety operations,’ as well as deliver important public interest benefits such as promoting rural broadband deployment to help bridge the digital divide. … Under this approach, commercial use of the 4.9 GHz band would be on a secondary basis to primary public safety licensees and would be subject to registration in a spectrum management database in order to protect primary public safety users from harmful interference.”

Federated Wireless, Inc., said “the band can be put to its highest and best use by permitting all users access to the band through dynamic spectrum sharing. Dynamic spectrum sharing will permit the most intensive use of the band more quickly and more cheaply than other options. This will in turn stimulate the equipment market to ensure that all users, including public safety users, have access to the latest equipment at reasonable prices. In doing so, mission critical public safety systems will be protected and important CII systems will have more spectrum options for serving the public. Federated Wireless urges the Commission to quickly adopt rules and implement procedures that will support these essential applications through dynamic spectrum sharing in the 4.9 GHz band.” Federated said the FCC can build upon the sharing regimes developed for the TV white spaces spectrum and the 3.5 GHz band.

“The 4.9 GHz band offers much-needed mid-band spectrum, but the next generations of Wi-Fi technology are designed to use wideband channels that cannot be implemented in the limited bandwidth proposed in the FNPRM,” said the Wi-Fi Alliance. “In particular, because unlicensed equipment is not expected to be able to access the 4990–5150 MHz band, Wi-Fi devices cannot use the contiguous block of spectrum between 4940 MHz and 5250 MHz that could support the wide channelization utilized by modern equipment. If unlicensed access to that entire band was available, then the 4.9 GHz band segment would be a feasible candidate for Wi-Fi. But because it is unrealistic to expect unlicensed access to the 4990–5150 MHz band, the Commission should maintain its focus on making the 6 GHz band (5.925–7.125 GHz) available for Wi-Fi and other unlicensed uses.”

The National Academy of Sciences, through its Committee on Radio Frequencies, said it is “pleased that the Commission recognizes the need to protect RAS [radio astronomy service] observations in the 4.9 GHz band and has proposed specific means of doing so. CORF has long-supported efficient use of the spectrum and the thoughtful sharing of spectrum among services, when such sharing is practical. While CORF remains concerned about the potential for interference from enhanced active use of the 4.9 GHz band, it supports the protections proposed in the FNPRM, as discussed above.”—Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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