Public Safety Agencies Hijack Lots of Spectrum

The FCC just granted Sprint Nextel permission to stay in the 800MHz band the company had been using to provide service to 16 million customers – for a little while. Public safety agencies were supposed to take over the space and Sprint was to move to different bands – but those bands have yet to be vacated by the public agencies that were supposed to move by a week from Friday. Ars relates the whole fascinating history:

The Commission came up with a three-year timetable for the transition, which started on June 27, 2005 and was scheduled to conclude a week from Friday, with Sprint paying for some of the transition costs. In exchange the FCC would give it some mobile service license goodies in the 900MHz band and various license modification breaks way up there in the 1.9GHz band. Everybody’s happy, at least in theory.

But these things rarely go according to schedule in FCC-land. Many of the public agencies that were supposed to get out of their portion of Dodge, didn’t. In fact, only a fraction of them had made the move by 2007. A bunch even told the Commission that they won’t be able to get the job done until 2009 or even 2010. This complicates things for Sprint, since its designated trek involves temporary stays at some of the channels the public safety groups were supposed to vacate before the company climbs up to its new perch at the top of the 800 MHz.

Undaunted, the FCC issued yet another Order in September 2007 telling Sprint Nextel to get a move on “regardless of whether all NPSPAC licensees in a given region are prepared to relocate within that time frame.”

This ridiculous tale – ordering Sprint to leave, before its new home had been vacated by government agencies – could only occur in Washington. If the spectrum were totally privitized, government would not be eating up such valuable portions of the airwaves and trading would ensure that the each chunk of spectrum went to its most efficient use.