SECOND REPORT AND ORDER AND ORDER ON RECONSIDERATION
Adopted: February 8, 2018
Released: February 12, 2018
1. In this Second Report and Order, we amend and clarify the Commission’s 700 MHz narrowband (769-775/799-805 MHz) interoperability and technical rules. Specifically, this Second Report and Order (1) amends and clarifies the rules to exempt 700 MHz low-power Vehicular Repeater Systems (VRS) from trunking requirements; (2) amends the rules to ensure that 700 MHz public safety licensees receive information on the basis of vendor assertions that equipment is interoperable across vendors and complies with Project 25 (P25) standards; and (3) amends the rules to require that all narrowband mobile and portable 700 MHz public safety radios, as supplied to the ultimate user, must be capable of operating on all of the narrowband nationwide interoperability channels without addition of hardware, firmware, or software, and must be interoperable across vendors and operate in conformance with P25 standards.
2. In the companion Order on Reconsideration, we address the Petition for Partial Reconsideration filed by Motorola Solutions, Inc. (Motorola), which requested that the Commission postpone the effective date of certain previously adopted rules until complementary proposals that were the subject of the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding are resolved. As requested by Motorola, we adopt a uniform effective date for the rules that were the subject of the Motorola Petition for Partial Reconsideration and the rules newly adopted in this Second Report and Order.
II. AMENDMENT OF THE TRUNKING RULES
3. In 1998, the Commission decided that trunking of certain narrowband systems in the 700 MHz band would contribute to efficient use of the spectrum. Therefore, it adopted Section 90.537, a rule requiring that systems using six or more State-licensed or General Use channels must operate in the trunked mode.
4. In the Report and Order in this proceeding adopted in 2014, the Commission added the former 700 MHz narrowband Reserve Channels to the General Use pool for multiple uses subject to Regional Planning Committee (RPC) administration, and authorized the RPCs to designate some of the former Reserve Channels for low power VRS use (license class MO3). The addition of the former Reserve Channels (24 12.5 kilohertz channels) to the General Use Pool made them subject to the trunking requirements of Section 90.537.
5. Following adoption of the Report and Order, the Commonwealth of Virginia (Virginia) sought and obtained a waiver of the trunking requirement to allow its VRS system to operate without trunking on State License channels and former Reserve Channels. In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in this proceeding, the Commission recognized the growing popularity of VRS systems among public safety entities to enhance system coverage, and accordingly sought comment on amending Section 90.537 to exempt VRS systems from the trunking rule. The FNPRM sought comment on the costs and benefits of trunking as applied to VRS.
6. Based on the record, we amend Section 90.537 of the rules to exempt 700 MHz VRS systems from the trunking requirement. All commenters that addressed the trunking issue support exempting VRS systems from the trunking rule because doing so would provide public safety with needed flexibility to meet operational needs and because of the technical challenges associated with trunking VRS systems. While commenters acknowledge the spectrum efficiency benefits of trunking, they submit that VRS system trunking is not currently technically feasible. Virginia notes that as of 2016, no trunked VRS unit is available from any manufacturer or approved for use in the United States, and asserts that, even if trunking VRS units were available, it would be difficult and costly to replace allexisting VRS units. No commenter expressed technical concerns regarding untrunked VRS operations or asserted that untrunked VRS would lead to any interference, spectrum warehousing, or frequency congestion problems.
7. Exempting 700 MHz VRS systems from the Section 90.537 trunking requirement will ensure that public safety can continue using a beneficial technology. Several commenters noted the financial and technological benefits that VRS deployments have for statewide public safety communications networks by providing a cost-effective option for extending coverage inside buildings and in rural areas. Absent VRS systems, these parties claim, achieving comparable statewide coverage would require costly fixed infrastructure. Thus, we conclude that the theoretical benefit of mandating trunking of VRS units remains largely illusory. The spectrum efficiency benefits of trunking VRS – were the equipment available – would be far outweighed by the negative effect on VRS system use, given the cost to public safety to replace existing VRS units.