Alexandria (VA) Wins Major Public Safety Victory at FCC
Decision May Aid Other Cities
By Ron Thaniel
April 5, 2010
Alexandria (VA) won a major victory for local governments that are in the process of rebanding their public safety frequencies due to a spectrum swap with Sprint Nextel. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) March 26 rejected a proposal by Sprint Nextel Corporation that would either have temporarily left the city with public safety radios that could not communicate with one another, or forced the city to replace radios at its own expense. The FCC concluded that the city is entitled to receive zone-doubled radios. However, the agency said Sprint Nextel Corporation could meet its obligation by a temporary loan of higher-capacity mobile radios rather than replacing these units permanently.
At issue was a dispute between the city and Sprint Nextel concerning whether Sprint Nextel must provide the Alexandria Fire Department with zone doubled portable and mobile radios during the period that its system is being rebanded, and if so, whether Sprint Nextel may satisfy this requirement by providing loaner radios that would be returned to Sprint Nextel Corporation after the city’s system is rebanded.
Sprint Nextel had offered to replace portable (hand-carried) radios used by fire and EMS personnel, with radios that could operate in both bands, but was unwilling to replace the mobile radios mounted in fire engines and other medical or rescue vehicles. Sprint Nextel had argued that the rebanding process inherently involved some disruption, and argued that it would not be necessary for all radios to be interoperable unless there was some major catastrophe. Sprint Nextel argued that the interoperability functions had not often been used in the past, and because it would almost certainly complete rebanding of all the systems in the Washington (DC) area in the near future, the temporary loss of some interoperability was unlikely to present significant public safety risks.
The FCC rejected those arguments. It noted that “Alexandria has equipped itself with the capability of interoperating with other jurisdictions and we are unwilling to impair that ability, even temporarily, on the theory that an incident or incidents requiring interoperability might not occur in the interim.”
While the FCC decision is limited to the facts of the case, the decision may have implications for other localities going through the rebanding process. The opinion can be read online at http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-10-501A1.pdf.
In the late 1990s, public safety systems around the country were experiencing frequency interference with commercial providers. The FCC, based on a proposal made by Sprint Nextel, adopted an order in 2004 to provide for the swap of public safety systems operating in the 800 MHz band to new frequencies with Sprint Nextel retaining the 800 MHx band for its own commercial purposes. However, as a condition of this rebanding, Sprint Nextel was required to pay for the cost of switching the public safety systems to new frequencies.
Gerry Lederer with the Washington law firm of Miller & Van Eaton contributed to this story. Miller & Van Eaton represented Alexandria in this matter.