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FCC Takes Action to Implement the Public Safety Spectrum Act of 2012

Aaron George

20 August 2012
On July 30, 2012, the FCC released an Order terminating 20 waivers that it had previously issued to local, state, and regional public safety entities to start building out wireless broadband networks in the 700 MHz band.  It also dismissed more than three dozen pending waiver requests from other public safety entities.  The FCC had granted the waivers in its 2010 Waiver Order, after a 2008 attempt to auction the 700 MHz D Block spectrum (753-763/788-793 MHz) to a commercial licensee and facilitate a “public-private partnership” regulatory model did not result in a winning bid.

The FCC’s July 2012 Order implements provisions of the February 22, 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (“Public Safety Spectrum Act” or “Act”), which the FCC noted “fundamentally altered the regulatory landscape for the 700 MHz band, providing a Congressionally developed long-term vision for using this spectrum to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network.”  The Act establishes the First Responder Network Authority (“FirstNet”) to develop the nationwide public safety wireless broadband network using an FCC license for existing public safety broadband spectrum (763-769 MHz/793-799 MHz) and the spectrally adjacent D Block.  The FCC’s order seeks to “facilitat[e] the transition of the spectrum so that FirstNet, once it is fully formed and operational, will be able to  . . .  promote a truly interoperable nationwide public safety broadband network.”

To that end, the FCC replaced its prior waiver approach with a process for local entities to seek special temporary authority (“STA”) under the Commission’s existing rules to continue deploying public safety networks until FirstNet is ready to proceed with the nationwide network.  The FCC will consider STA applications from entities with cancelled waivers or waiver requests on a case-by-case basis and expects that it will grant STAs “in very few instances, and only where we can conclude that such deployment clearly serves the public interest and will not be detrimental to the Public Safety Spectrum Act’s goals or likely to jeopardize FirstNet’s mandate.”  The FCC noted that “[a] pattern of sustained investment, both monetary and in terms of planning and construction, will provide the most compelling basis for a positive evaluation, particularly that which was completed prior to the February 22, 2012 enactment of the Public Safety Spectrum Act.”  The FCC identified the following factors that would support the grant of an STA:

  • Substantial network deployment in public safety broadband spectrum prior to the enactment of the Act;
  • Ability to deliver public safety broadband services on an expedited basis, significantly in advance of FirstNet’s ability to consider deployment in a particular area;
  • A specific compelling public safety need for near-term service;
  • Compliance with the minimum technical recommendations for nationwide interoperability developed by the Interoperability Board and transmitted to FirstNet under Section 6203 of the Act; and
  • State concurrence with a non-state STA applicant’s plans for deployment within the state, which would include coordination with any official or government body designated under Section 6302(d) of the Act to administer state and local implementation grant funding within the state.

The FCC’s Public Safety Bureau will immediately begin accepting STA applications and expects to act within 30 days of receiving a complete application.  The FCC will grant STAs for up to 180 days, and STA recipients will be eligible to apply for renewal.

The FCC also granted interim approval for Charlotte, North Carolina, and Harris County, Texas public safety representatives to deploy and operate 700 MHz wireless broadband systems in their geographic area until September 2, 2012.  The FCC granted interim approval pursuant to its prior waiver approach, based on interoperability showings from Charlotte and Harris County that substantially complied with the requirements of the FCC’s Waiver Order and the Public Safety Bureau’s Interoperability Waiver Order.  The FCC also gave Charlotte and Harris County the option to seek to extend their deployments beyond September 2 by applying for an STA.

Aaron George

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