New 800 MHz Rebanding Guidance: How Does it Affect You?
December 12, 2007
By Brett Haan
During the ongoing reconfiguration of the 800 MHz band, there has been speculation on whether the FCC would extend the program completion deadline past the established June 26, 2008, date and whether all licensees would be able to complete their reconfigurations by that deadline. Recent events as well as statements and releases by the FCC indicate that the commission will not grant a blanket extension of the deadline. In its third memorandum opinion and order (MO&O) released Sept. 12, along with a companion public notice, the FCC provided additional guidance and established benchmarks within the reconfiguration program to speed up rebanding activities to meet the current deadline.
Completion of Planning
National Public Safety Planning Advisory Committee (NPSPAC) licensees must complete rebanding — a major step — before moving on to physical reconfiguration. Therefore, the FCC’s September public notice established deadlines by which NPSPAC licensees must complete planning and submit cost estimates to Sprint Nextel. The deadlines apply to all NPSPAC licensees who have negotiated planning funding agreements (PFAs) or who are engaged in planning without PFAs.
Licensees in Waves 1 – 3 already engaged in planning Sept. 12 must meet or must have met the following deadlines:
• Wave 1 by Oct. 15
• Wave 2 by Nov. 15
• Wave 3 by Dec. 15
If those deadlines would result in a licensee having less than 90, 100 or 110 total days to complete planning depending on the size of its system, then the following variable deadlines based on the number of subscriber units in a licensee’s system will be effected:
• Up to 5,000 units within 90 days of the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA) approval of the PFA
• 5,001 – 10,000 units within 100 days of TA approval of the PFA
• More than 10,000 units within 110 days of TA approval of the PFA
For example, a Wave 1 licensee with 1,000 subscriber units whose PFA was approved Aug. 1 would have 90 days from that date — until Oct. 30 — to complete planning. If licensees cannot meet planning deadlines, they must request additional time to complete planning from the FCC’s Public Safety Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB). Licensees should file extension requests with the PSHSB at PSHSB800@fcc.gov and copy the TA at TAMediation@ssd.com.
An extension request must explain why more time is necessary as well as demonstrate that the licensees have exercised diligence in their reconfiguration. The FCC will consider a number of factors in evaluating a planning extension request, including size and complexity of a licensee’s system, degree of interoperability with other systems and level of effort required to prepare a reasonable cost estimate, among others.
The commission also stated that licensee requests for time extensions for planning based on delays caused by Sprint Nextel or claimed unavailability of vendor or consultant resources will not be routinely granted. In response to this guidance, licensees should make extra efforts to ensure that they have sufficient vendor and consultant support necessary for completing planning efforts. In addition, licensees must provide the TA with biweekly updates regarding the status of planning. The cost of preparing such updates will be recoverable from Sprint Nextel.
Once planning is complete, the next step in the reconfiguration process is the negotiation of a frequency reconfiguration agreement (FRA) between a licensee and Sprint Nextel. The commission also issued additional guidance regarding timeframes for FRA negotiations:
• Once a licensee has completed planning and submitted a cost estimate, the parties have 30 days to negotiate an FRA;
• If the parties are unable to negotiate an FRA within 30 days, they will then participate in mediation for 20 days; and
• If no agreement is reached by the close of the 20-day mediation period, the TA will refer remaining disputed issues to the PSHSB within 10 days.
Change Notice Process
Because of concerns voiced by some NPSPAC licensees that initial planning and FRA negotiations have been lengthened because of the uncertainty surrounding the change notice process, the FCC issued the following guidance regarding the process:
• Noting that change notices are subject to the FCC’s May rebanding cost clarification order, the FCC stated that the negotiation of change notice requests should take into account the overall goals of the rebanding proceeding, not just the issue of minimum cost.
• The change notice process isn’t the forum for licensees to recover costs that were foreseeable during planning or FRA negotiations, but for costs that were either not raised at that time or were rejected. However, licensees that comply with the planning and FRA time limits discussed may seek to recover costs incurred that couldn’t reasonably be anticipated within those time limits.
• Change notices should be submitted via fax to 866-221-6990 where they will be received by both Sprint Nextel and the TA. The commission directed Sprint Nextel to respond to change notice requests within 10 working days of receipt. Either party may request mediation from the TA if negotiations are unsuccessful, and parties will enter a 15-working-day mediation period. For those parties who agree to amendments to their FRAs, the TA will review amendments within 10 working days of the submission date.
Requests for Deadline Extension
For licensees whose reconfiguration activities will extend beyond the scheduled program completion date of June 26, 2008, the FCC provided the following guidance:
• Such licensees must submit waiver requests to the FCC prior to that date. However, licensees shouldn’t file waiver requests with the FCC at this time; they should focus all efforts on completion of planning and implementation of reconfiguration. Further guidance on this issue will be available at a later date.
• Requests for waiver will be subject to a high level of scrutiny. Licensees will be expected to demonstrate that they have worked diligently and in good faith to expeditiously complete rebanding, and that the amount of additional time requested is no more than is reasonably necessary to complete the rebanding process.
• The FCC will consider a number of factors in evaluating a request, including size and complexity of a licensee’s system, degree of interoperability with other systems, level of effort required to complete rebanding implementation, among others.
What Should a Licensee Do Now?
Understanding the new guidance is part one; implementing the new FCC benchmarks within your reconfiguration activities is the next step. Following are TA recommendations to help guide you through the process:
• If you haven’t already submitted your cost estimate to Sprint Nextel, do it as soon as possible. If you can’t meet the relevant planning deadline, promptly submit to the PSHSB a request for additional time for the completion of planning.
• Ensure that you have sufficient vendor and consultant support to complete planning and reconfiguration implementation activities within the outlined schedule for your system.
• If you are in the process of negotiating your FRA, identify all points of contention as soon as possible and voice those concerns immediately to Sprint Nextel and the TA mediator.
• Keep track of all expenses incurred for reconfiguration activities that occur past the June 26, 2008, deadline, as those expenses are reimbursable costs.
Many licensees have questioned whether their FRAs are still valid with the release of the new benchmarks. The answer is yes. If you have already negotiated and signed your FRA, it is valid. Reconfiguration will move forward, and the sooner it is complete, the better for all parties involved.
Some Additional Points
• For licensees conducting planning without a PFA, the TA will designate an equivalent starting date for the planning period.
• Wave 4, Stage 2 nonborder area licensees must complete planning and submit cost estimates within 90, 100 or 110 days of TA approval of its PFA, depending on the size of its system. For Wave 4, Stage 2 border area licensees, the FCC will provide guidance on planning timelines once the revised border-area band plans are available.
• Licensees don't need to file waiver requests to be assured of continuing funding by Sprint Nextel in the event that their rebanding activities extend past the 36-month deadline. The FCC directed the TA to approve FRAs, which provide the recovery of rebanding costs after June 26, 2008, as long as the costs are otherwise recoverable under the TA's standards. However, this assurance of continued funding may not apply to a licensee found not to have been acting in good faith.
A trailer used in Colorado for retuning radios as part of the 800 MHz reconfiguration of the statewide Digital Trunked Radio (DTR) system.
Brett Haan is the deputy program manager of the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA). If you have questions regarding the new FCC guidance released in the third MO&O or the companion public noticed released Sept. 12, please visit the TA's Web site at www.800TA.org or e-mail the TA at comments@800TA.org.