The opportunity to arrive at a consensus among the Business/Industrial and Public Safety frequency advisory committees (FACs) on how best to process 800 MHz Expansion/Guard Band (EB/GB) applications that avoid mutual exclusivity remains elusive after one year of effort. Last week, during a meeting with a majority of the certified FACs in attendance, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) staff informed the FACs that Commission leadership, those who sit on its 8th Floor, had rejected the round-robin application approach because it was believed that it would prejudice FACs with a greater number of applications to process and possibly cause customers to move their applications to another FAC.
It is surprising that the proposed EB/GB Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) attracted this level of attention and intervention by the 8th Floor. Matters involving coordination of Part 90 Private Land Mobile Radio (PLMR) spectrum rarely – if ever – cause a ripple with the Commission’s leadership, which typically relies on the recommendations of its resident experts in the WTB in these matters. Since this proceeding is no longer subject to ex parte rules, EWA and the other FACs that have labored long, hard, and collaboratively to identify an application process that is fair, transparent, and avoids application conflicts will never know for certain what caused this unusual display of 8th Floor interest. That’s the problem when you’re not in the room where it happened, as Aaron Burr would say. We do know that the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), led by former FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, is the one FAC that had not confirmed its support for the amended EB/GB MOA. During the WTB meeting, WIA affirmed its position that the current FAC process would work just fine and endorsed the 8th Floor objections to the round robin approach. Perhaps WIA’s position should not have been a surprise even though its most recent message to its fellow FACs gave no hint that it had a fundamental objection to the amended MOA. Had it done so, it is possible that the parties could have come up with an acceptable resolution, as they have frequently over decades during which contentious matters have been resolved through open dialogue and mutual respect.
The FCC’s instructions during the meeting were clear - address the claims of potential prejudice with the round-robin approach or propose an alternative process that eliminates entirely the prospect of multiple FACs submitting applications to the FCC that are mutually exclusive. WIA’s belief that the current process will work fine even if 2,000+ applications are dumped into an inter-FAC concurrence regimen that typically handles only a few applications daily seems to EWA to be the product of magical thinking. EWA fears it will produce hundreds of mutually exclusive applications that will have to be sorted out one-by-one without a clear standard for determining priority. One FCC representative in attendance warned that the FACs’ failure to reach agreement may result in the FCC adopting processes that the FACs may not like. Since a year of effort has been in vain, EWA is willing to let the FCC take its best shot.
On this issue, EWA President Mark Crosby stated, “EWA’s leadership is now obligated to step back and revisit its overall advocacy position with respect to the EB/GB landscape. After attempting for a year to develop a workable coordination process, we see little likelihood that further effort would produce a solution acceptable to all FACs given WIA’s position that no solution is needed.”