If you require planning funding, do not wait until the mandatory negotiation period commences—this is too late in the process.
Blue: Wave 1; Red: Wave 2; Yellow: Wave 3; Gray: Wave 4. Illustrations courtesy TA
The Wave Map
The 800 MHz reconfiguration is occurring in four geographic waves across the United States.Illustrations courtesy TA
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Public-safety radio systems operating on the 800 MHz band in the United States have experienced increasing levels of interference and dead zones due to commercial wireless cellular telephone carriers such as Sprint Nextel operating in the same or adjacent spectrum bands. The 800 MHz reconfiguration program, mandated by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), addresses this harmful interference by spectrally separating the two types of systems.
The 800 MHz Transition Administrator (TA), the neutral and independent entity charged with assisting radio-system licensees with reconfiguration, drew up a regional prioritization plan (RPP) to guide the reconfiguration process across the United States. The plan includes a schedule that coordinates the relocation of public safety and other licensees from one area of the 800 MHz band to another. Per the schedule, the relocation occurs in four waves (see “The Wave Map,” p. 53). For example, licensees in central states (e.g., Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri) will relocate during Wave 3.
This article will address several important steps an agency can follow to make the best use of the time frames the FCC has outlined for 800 MHz reconfiguration.
Begin Negotiations ASAP
Perhaps the most significant lesson learned from the past year is that negotiations between reconfiguring parties (e.g., your agency and Sprint Nextel) must begin as soon in the process as possible. Early and frequent dialogue remains essential to framing the key issues and ensuring you have enough time in the schedule to resolve them.
First, file a request for planning funding (RFPF) if you expect to spend more than 30 person-days of effort in planning activities, have a large and/or complex system, or are part of a group of smaller systems that share systems for interoperability. (Large systems may include those with simulcast configurations, geographically large systems with complex planning requirements, and/or systems with more than 1,000 subscriber units, 10 or more channels, and three or more sites.) Even individual reconfigurations, however, may involve unique funding or planning considerations, so the decision whether or not to submit an RFPF is entirely up to you.
If you require planning funding, you must submit your RFPF by the published TA deadline (see p. 53). If you miss the deadline, you should incorporate any necessary planning costs into your cost estimate for the Frequency Reconfiguration Agreement (FRA). Planning funding requests submitted after the deadline will not be accepted without adequate explanation of why funding is required prior to negotiating an FRA.
Prepare Your Cost Estimates Early
The TA recommends public-safety licensees immediately engage at the outset of the voluntary negotiation window because public-safety agreements take longer to complete and implementation generally takes longer to plan than commercial or other licensees. One method: Prepare a cost estimate of your proposed expenses for reconfiguration, and consider having it ready when your voluntary negotiation period starts. If you can submit your cost estimate to Sprint Nextel close to this start date, you will have a full 180 days to negotiate your FRA. The longer you give your organization, the more time you will have to work out the specifics of your contract. If you wait to start preparing your cost estimate until your voluntary negotiation period begins, the time constraints will squeeze tighter, leaving less room for negotiation and increasing the likelihood your case will enter mediation at the end of the mandatory negotiation period.
If You Need Help, Get It
Engage with Sprint Nextel early in the process. Early dialogue remains critical to successful reconfiguration. If at any time you feel your negotiations have stalled, the TA can assist. The TA can also communicate with Sprint Nextel, or, if you choose, you can request mediation. Forms are available for each of these actions on the TA’s Web site at www.800ta.org/ content/documents/reconfig_forms.asp.
The Web site (www.800ta.org) includes extensive resources, including the online reference guide. This guide, also known as the Reconfiguration Handbook, reflects the most current policies and other updated guidance. The TA also offers webinars, online seminars to educate licensees and other stakeholders about the process. These webinars include presentations and live Q&A sessions. For the webinar schedule and registration information, refer to the Web site. In addition to these resources, the TA staffs
a trained contact center to answer your questions; contact them at
comments@800TA.org or 888/800-8220.
A Last Word
Engage in reconfiguration activities early to ensure the success of your agency’s reconfiguration. And, as you fulfill your responsibilities as a reconfiguring 800 MHz licensee, take advantage of the resources and information available to assist in the process. As everyone agrees, when reconfiguration is complete, we will all benefit from the improvements to public safety communications.
Fast Track for Planning Funding
The TA, public-safety leadership and Sprint Nextel recently announced a new option for licensees to obtain planning funding, where necessary, for 800 MHz reconfiguration—the Planning Funding Agreement (PFA) Fast Track Option.
Under certain circumstances, public safety licensees affected by 800 MHz reconfiguration may now obtain planning funding without negotiating planning costs with Sprint Nextel. To speed up the planning process and enable licensees to more quickly conclude a reconfiguration agreement, Sprint Nextel has agreed to fast-track any planning funding request that equates to no more than $55 per subscriber unit operated by the licensee, with legal costs 8 percent or less of the total request and project-management costs 25 percent or less of the total request. Once accepted by the TA, the RFPF will be sent to Sprint Nextel to enter into a PFA on the basis of the licensee’s total cost per unit. If the RFPF submission does not quality for the Fast Track Option, it will follow the standard 60-day negotiation process.
The TA estimates more than half of the licensee population requiring planning funding will be able to use the fast track option. By eliminating weeks or even months of negotiations, licensees can complete their planning more quickly and thereby have more time to enter into frequency reconfiguration agreements and prepare for the actual retuning process. Licensees with more complex needs will also benefit because the fast track option will free up Sprint Nextel and TA resources to focus on unique licensee situations and requirements. Licensees’ rights and obligations, including the requirement to conduct activities at the least cost, remain the same under the Fast Track Option and subject to the TA’s true-up process at the end of reconfiguration.
This article, based on information provided by the TA, was adapted from an article that appeared in the March 2006 issue of npstc spectrum, the newsletter of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC). For more information on NPSTC, visit www.npstc.org.