The T-band radio spectrum provides critical communications for firefighters and other first responders in large metropolitan areas. However, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently required by law to auction off the spectrum for other uses in February 2021. Congress will need to pass legislation in the next several months to stop the auction, which is a provision of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  

In the last several years, various bills have been introduced to repeal the mandated auction of the T-band spectrum. In February, House Energy and Commerce Committee Leader Rep. Greg Walden introduced legislation to repeal the auction, and last December five Senators reintroduced the “Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act” to preserve the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) spectrum (470-512 MHz).

Public safety agencies

The T-band was assigned in the 1970s because of the high density of communications in heavily populated metropolitan areas to support critical public safety communications and provide regional interoperability among first responders. Public safety agencies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of federal, state and local funds to plan and build out T-band networks.

The T-band is used in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia. In those locales, there are no workable alternatives. In addition, the T-band is used in San Francisco/Oakland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh and Washington DC (and surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia). Together, the areas cover more than 90 million Americans.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress pass a law

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that Congress pass a law to allow public-safety users to continue to use the T-band spectrum for emergency communications. A GAO report examined the challenges first responders and local governments expect in relocating communications from the T-band. The GAO conducted case studies in four cities, and reviewed statutes and regulations, FCC documents, and T-band studies by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).

Reallocating and auctioning 

The FCC is required to reallocate and auction the T-band by law. The independent federal agency has taken limited actions to address challenges and to assist public safety users of the T-band with mandatory relocation. However, they have not begun planning the auction.

The FCC is required to reallocate and auction the T-band by law

The FirstNet broadband network is designed for public safety; however, it is not ready to support mission-critical voice systems, according to NPSTC.

“The safety of our city depends on our use of the T-band, and taking it away would be unconscionable,” says New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The city has invested millions of dollars [to ensure] our first responders can communicate in all types of emergencies, and this resource is key to our ability to keep our communities safe.” In New York, losing the T-band spectrum would require billions of dollars be spent to replace existing radios and infrastructure and would devastate operations at thousands of emergencies each day.

the gAO study

The GAO study said the cost of relocating T-band users to other bands would be between $5 billion and $6 billion. For many users, alternative bands are limited or non-existent.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has launched a “Voter Voice” campaign

The Middle Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 both created FirstNet and directed the auction of the T-band spectrum. Proceeds from the auction would be made available to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to develop and administer a grant program to help cover costs associated with relocating public-safety users’ radio systems. Numerous business/industrial licensees are also in the T-band spectrum but are not addressed in the legislation.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has launched a “Voter Voice” campaign to support preserving public safety’s access to the T-band. The campaign encourages citizens to send a letter to their representative supporting repeal of the T-band auction.

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Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

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