Much of the attention on HR3630 from the Public Safety community in recent weeks has been focused on the funding and governance provisions for a nationwide broadband network, assignment of the “D Block” to Public Safety, and on the NG9-1-1 provisions previously summarized here. One potentially negative aspect of the legislation however is the mandated “give-back” of T-Band spectrum. T-Band refers to the 470 - 512 MHz frequency band, is shared with the television broadcasters (hence the T-Band designation) and was made available on a shared use basis by the FCC for LMR systems such as public safety in 13 major metropolitan areas of the country.
Section 6103 of the legislation requires giveback of UHF T-Band spectrum by Public Safety licensees. The language in the legislation indicates the spectrum must be reallocated no later than 9 years after enactment of the legislation, with relocation of users to be completed 2 years after the spectrum is competitively bid. The expectation is that this spectrum will be reallocated and auctioned to commercial use (likely used for TV broadcast). Proceeds from this future auction are to be used to cover the costs to relocate affected Public Safety licensees, with the remainder going to the U.S. Treasury.
The legislation does not provide any language regarding potential spectrum for relocating existing public safety LMR systems, nor does it identify any funding for pursuing spectrum or migration plans other than the reference indicating proceeds from the future auction are to be used to cover the relocation costs.
The language regarding the T-Band “giveback” in HR 3630 is fairly brief and does not spell out the specifics or detailed rules on how it will happen. We expect the FCC will now take the language and develop the detailed rules or processes needed to effect the legislation. Generally the first step in that process is a release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) indicating the FCC’s planned rules and approach, as well as providing an opportunity for comment and inputs.
In the meantime, L.R. Kimball echoes the comments that other industry leaders are advocating…i.e. “don’t panic.” First, a lot can happen over the course of nine years, and there is some speculation that things could change on the mandate. However, at the moment, we do need to take the legislation at face value and do recommend that clients currently using T-Band spectrum begin assessing their specific situation and investigating potential replacement spectrum. Even though the legislation indicates that costs for moving off T-Band are to be covered by the auction proceeds, those funds are somewhat meaningless if there’s no available suitable spectrum to move to.
To clarify, we are recommending that in the near term, clients begin investigation of potential available spectrum, and exploration of the applicable ideas presented, but not necessarily begin actively spending a large amount of funding on a new system. Although the legislation indicates the costs to move these systems is to be covered by the auction proceeds, the details of the process for getting funding, what items will be eligible, etc. are not yet defined. It’s expected the FCC will develop this guidance, a process that might take a year or more to be finalized.
In the meantime, make your politicians and decision makers aware of the likelihood of replacing your existing T-Band system, and potential that some local capital costs may be incurred in the process.
L.R. Kimball is actively monitoring the activity on the T-Band givebacks, and will continue to inform our clients as further information is released, and as the opportunities are presented to submit comments and inputs to the FCC or other bodies.
We have prepared a more detailed briefing, with recommendations and ideas for impacted jurisdictions to consider. Click here to download our white paper, “Key Elements of HR 3630 Impacting Public Safety: T-Band (470 - 512 MHz) Giveback.”