With Raft of Threshold Questions, FCC Starts Take-Back Process for 470-512 MHz

Statute requires the band to be cleared of public safety users by 2021 and auctioned by 2023.

In most parts of the country, the frequency band 470-512 MHz, also called the “T-band,” is better known as TV channels 14-20. But 11 major metropolitan areas use parts of the band for public safety communications, like the two-way radios in police cars, ambulances, and fire vehicles. These users include some of the nation’s biggest first responders, such as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the New York City Police Department.  Other licensees also use the band for two-way communications.

Last year, as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act (most of which has little to do with middle class tax relief), Congress gave public safety entities access to additional spectrum in the 700 MHz band for a nationwide first responder broadband network. But it also required that public safety licensees give back spectrum they use in the T-band, which would then be auctioned for commercial services. Public safety users would have to vacate the T-band by 2021 for a spectrum auction by 2023. The auction revenue is supposed to be made available to current public safety licensees to help offset the cost of relocating their systems to other frequencies.  Oddly, the statute is silent as to the non-public safety users of T-band.

There has been talk among public safety licensees of asking Congress to repeal the T-band “give back” provisions. Unless and until such a repeal occurs, though, the FCC has its marching orders. In keeping with those orders, the FCC has released a public notice to investigate the implications of the law for public safety and other land mobile radio licensees. The public notice seeks detailed information on the extent and nature of public safety radio systems in the T-band, whether some of the current users can migrate to the new first responder broadband network or other public safety frequency bands, and the potential costs of such a relocation.

Comments in response to the public notice are due on May 13, 2013, with reply comments due on
June 11.

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