1. The Commission has allocated and designated 50 megahertz of spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (4940-4990 MHz) to public safety. Although nearly 90,000 public safety entities are eligible under our rules to obtain licenses in the band, there were only 2,442 licenses in use in 2012 and only 3,174 licenses in use nearly six years later in 2018. With no more than 3.5% of potential licensees using the band, we remain concerned that, as the Commission stated in 2012, the band has “fallen short of its potential.”
2. Public safety entities have offered several reasons why the band has seen less use than expected. One reason cited is the difficulty of acquiring equipment and the cost of deployment. According to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International’s (APCO) 4.9 GHz Task Force Report (APCO Report), “the public safety user community remains small relative to the greater consumer marketplace,” which “has historically resulted in a limited vendor ecosystem, specialized devices, and higher costs.” We also believe that a lack of available equipment for mobile applications has impeded widespread use of the band by public safety. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has argued that interference concerns have also suppressed use of the 4.9 GHz band. In its 4.9 GHz NPSTC Plan Recommendations Final Report (NPSTC Plan), NPSTC notes that because the Commission’s current rules “allow geographically based licensing with little documentation on system design and transmitter location,” public safety “contemplating new service in this band cannot determine if other agencies in their area might cause harmful interference today or in the future.”
3. In this Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Sixth Further Notice), we seek comment on several alternatives to stimulate expanded use of and investment in the 4.9 GHz band, drawing on comments in the record as well as the NPSTC Plan submitted in 2013 and the APCO Report submitted in 2015. Our goal is to ensure that public safety continues to have priority in the band while opening up the band to additional uses that will facilitate increased usage, including more prominent mobile use, and encourage a more robust market for equipment and greater innovation, while protecting primary users from harmful interference. We believe that with an appropriate sharing mechanism in place, which we discuss in further detail below, our proposed approach will promote more opportunistic use of the 4.9 GHz band without compromising the integrity and security of public safety operations.