Managing the T-Band Grant Program

The T-Band Mandate hit the proverbial ice burg at launch. The deal to trade 6 to 18 MHz of 470-512 MHz spectrum, the amount dependent upon which of the eleven urban areas one is reviewing, in exchange for 10 MHz of spectrum available nationwide, plus billions of dollars to develop a national interoperable public safety network (now FirstNet) was doomed. There is insufficient alternative spectrum to move public safety systems out of the band, no mention of the mere existence or economic accommodations for incumbent business and commercial enterprises who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and an auction requirement that will not generate enough revenues to fund  public safety relocations.  Note that auction proceeds are not permitted to be used to relocate non-public safety incumbents. And to add salt to the wound, the FCC implemented an application freeze that remains in effect after nine years!  What a mess.

But we have now entered the Twilight Zone.  An officer from NTIA last week, with the title “Deputy Assistant Secretary performing the nonexclusive functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information” warned FCC Chairman Pai to not usurp NTIA’s post auction T-Band responsibilities to “develop a Federal financial assistance program, including the development of reasonable, allocable, and allowable costs consistent with the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards (2 C.F.R. Part 200), and the Department of Commerce grants policies.”  This in response to language contained in the FCC’s T-Band Mandate NPRM that suggested to NTIA that “the Commission believes the statute provides it with the authority to determine certain elements of the NTIA grant program.” And then NTIA noted that it would work closely with the Commission to “ensure a successful transition for affected public safety entities.”

T-Band incumbents will be comforted to know that multiple agencies are vying for the responsibility to manage the deck chairs.