It’s been a pretty crazy two weeks in the public safety communications universe. In addition to what is presently facing first responders on the streets and in the forests, the FCC has dropped a draft Sixth Report & Order and Seventh Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the 4.9 GHz proceeding. It has caused a lot of talk and discussion in the industry, much of it confusing.
First, it should be pointed out that this portion of the proceeding has been ongoing since at least the Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was released on March 23, 2018. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that the latest Report & Order would be released soon as the 6 GHz Report & Order, and that it would be released prior to the election (and thus potential “changing of the guard”).
Second, the draft’s decision to permit non-public safety leasing in the band is perhaps a surprise, but only because the Commission didn’t go further and permit a 6 GHz-type unlicensed use plan. Specifically, paragraphs 74-79 of the Sixth Further Notice was a discussion of this potential. Thus, the proposal was certainly within the realm of the FCC’s consideration during the past two-plus years.
It should also be noted that decision is not terribly far afield from several other public safety regimes. First, the “doling out” of public safety spectrum on a local basis by locals knowledgeable about local needs has been a hallmark of the 700 MHz & 800 MHz NPSPAC Regional Planning Committee process. The only difference here is that the State will create and control that process, with the FCC not needing to do additional licensing of the users (unless there’s a FAA tower situation). It is also not much different than FirstNet (which I note wants to be allocated the band), where an entity “leases” spectrum to users (both public safety and non-public safety) after states elected to opt-in. In fact, there’s no reason why a State couldn’t decide to have FirstNet be their band manager in that state.
There’s a lot of details in the Order, and a lot of details to be decided in the Further NPRM portion of the proceeding. For more information and a Q&A, see the GWTCA webpage on 4.9 GHz. There might be a million reasons why this FCC decision is bad for public safety, but that should be outcome of thorough discussion on the merits and demerits of the actual document.