Search Penny Hill Press

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Spectrum Policy: Public Safety and Wireless Communications Interference

Linda K. Moore
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

In mid-2005, wireless communications managers commenced the process of moving selected public safety radio channels to new frequencies. This step was part of a rebanding plan to mitigate persistent problems with interference to public safety radio communications. The majority of documented incidents of interference was attributed to the network built by Nextel Communications, Inc (now Sprint Nextel). As part of an agreement originally made between Nextel and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), some public safety wireless users have moved or will move to new frequencies, with the wireless company paying all or part of the cost. The rebanding agreement was not affected by the merger between Nextel and Sprint Corporation. In return for the expenditures, and reflecting the value of spectrum that Sprint Nextel relinquished as part of the band reconfiguration, the FCC assigned new spectrum licenses to the wireless company. The FCC set the "windfall" value of the new licenses, after allowing for the value of the licenses being relinquished, at $2.8 billion. The costs that Sprint Nextel incurs in the rebanding process are being applied to the $2.8 billion windfall. If the total is less than $2.8 billion, Sprint Nextel will be required to make an "anti-windfall" payment to the U.S. Treasury for the difference. If the costs exceed $2.8 billion, Sprint Nextel is obligated to pay them without any new concessions from the FCC. 

The rebanding plan is being implemented by the 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA), created by the FCC for this purpose. The TA's ongoing responsibilities are to set priorities, establish schedules, and oversee reimbursement to parties for eligible expenses associated with relocation. Disagreements about the implementation of the plan that the TA cannot resolve on its own or through mediation are in most cases referred to the FCC. From the outset, there have been debates about the transition plan, such as maintaining interoperability, scheduling, and reimbursement for costs incurred. As the band reconfiguration proceeds, debates have often become protracted negotiations—and even litigatious disputes—slowing the transition process. 

The original plan set a deadline of June 2008 to complete the transition, with the calculation – or true-up – of the anti-windfall payment to occur six months later. The deadline has been extended several times while issues regarding the transition process were resolved. Consequently, the deadline for the true-up has also been extended, most recently until December 2010. The TA has until November 15, 2010, to file a report with the FCC with its recommendations as to whether it has sufficient information on the costs of rebanding to calculate the anti-windfall payment – if any – that Sprint Nextel will be obligated to pay, or whether the deadline must be postponed again. 

Additional delays are occurring in U.S. border areas. The transition plan for frequencies along the Canadian border is scheduled for completion in April 2011. Negotiations continue with Mexico about rebanding frequencies along the Mexican border

Date of Report: August 25, 2010
Number of Pages: 7
Order Number: RL32408
Price: $19.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.