uesday, December 22, 2020 | Comments
Congress repealed its mandate to the FCC to auction the T-band spectrum and relocate incumbents by 2021 as part of a massive appropriations bill that included a variety of coronavirus relief measures.
Section 902 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which was passed by the House and the Senate on December 21, is called the “Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act” and repeals the T-band auction requirement established in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. That bill created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority), but also required the auction of the T-band, covering 470 – 512 MHz, by 2021.
In recent years, both public-safety and business organizations, as well as FCC Commissioners, pressed Congress to repeal the act. In July, the FCC released proposed rules for a T-band auction and requested comment. At the same time, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other FCC commissioners called on Congress to repeal the T-band mandate.
Both the U.S. House and Senate passed the appropriations bill, and the bill is now waiting for a signature from President Donald Trump. The president is expected to sign the bill December 22.
“I welcome Congress both requiring the FCC to begin auctioning the 3.45 – 3.55 GHz band by the end of 2021 and repealing the mandate to auction the T-band,” Pai said in a statement regarding the appropriations bill. “These provisions will ensure that the commission and the federal government as a whole stay on track in quickly making the 3.45 GHz band available for 5G and that the FCC does not have to waste resources on a T-band auction that was bound to fail.”
In comments to the FCC’s request in July, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) argued that an auction of the spectrum would likely be unsuccessful and the money raised from the auction likely would not cover the costs of relocating incumbents. A joint filing from the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) described the auction as “fool’s errand.”
“This industry grinds for everything that it can get and to have the repeal of Section 6103 become a reality once the president signs it is just a wonderful day for the incumbents,” said EWA President Mark Crosby. “I’m very happy that this decision went down, and I’m happy for the incumbents because this was just horrible for them.”
While the auction mandate was in place, there was an application freeze on the band, preventing incumbents, including businesses and critical infrastructure entities, from making needed modifications to their systems and requiring them to find workarounds to continue using their systems, he said. “They’ve been under this cloud for nine years.”
With the auction mandate repealed, there are two key administrative issues that must be addressed moving forward, Crosby said. First, the FCC must consider and get input on how best to lift the application freeze on the band.
Crosby said that EWA believes that incumbents should receive the first opportunities at applications when lifting the band so that they can do what they need for their communications systems after not being able to modify them for so long.
The administrative issue that must be addressed is if the T-band will undergo narrowbanding and what that process will look like. Crosby said it is likely the band will undergo narrowbanding as it originally did not because it was slated for auction.
In addition to the repeal of the T-band, the spending bill passed by Congress included a section aimed at reducing diversion of 9-1-1 fees to other uses. 9-1-1 fee diversion has been an issue that Congress, the FCC and organizations such as APCO have been attempting to curb. In an annual report to Congress, the FCC found that five states diverted more than $200 million in 9-1-1 fees to uses besides 9-1-1.
The appropriations bill requires the FCC, no later than 180 days after the enactment of the bill, to release final rules that identify purposes and functions for which 9-1-1 fees can be used by states. Those purposes and functions must be limited to the “support and implementation of 9-1-1 services provided by or in the state or taxing jurisdictions imposing the fee or charge and operational expenses of public-safety answering points (PSAPs) within such state of taxing jurisdictions.”
As part of the law, the FCC must consult with public-safety organizations and states and taxing jurisdictions in determining the purposes and functions that 9-1-1 fees can be used for. Under the law, a state or taxing jurisdiction can submit a petition to the FCC asking for a determination of an expenditure not covered in the rules as an appropriate use of 9-1-1 fees.
Finally, the act creates an interagency task force to help end 9-1-1 fee diversion. The FCC has 180 days after the enactment of the law to establish the Ending 9-1-1 Fee Diversion Now Strike Force. Membership in the task force should include state attorneys general, state or taxing jurisdictions that are not diverting 9-1-1 fees, states or taxing jurisdictions trying to stop the diversion of 9-1-1 fees, state 9-1-1 administrators, public-safety organizations, groups representing the public and consumers, and groups representing PSAP professionals.
The task force will be responsible for determining the effectiveness of federal laws, regulations, policies and practices in eliminating 9-1-1 diversion as quickly as possible. The strike force will also consider whether criminal penalties would prevent diversion of 9-1-1 fees.
“APCO is very pleased that the 2021 Appropriations Act includes repeal of the T-band provision that would have otherwise required public safety to relinquish use of this important spectrum for conducting mission-critical communications, as well as legislation to combat 9-1-1 fee diversion,” said APCO Executive Director and CEO Derek Poarch. “This outcome is the result of years of lobbying efforts by APCO and other public-safety groups.”