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Pai to Hill: Pass Bill Preserving T-Band for Public Safety

FCC chair Ajit Pai, usually eager to free up midband spectrum wherever he can get it for 5G, reiterated Monday (March 9) that he opposes the reallocation and auction of the T-Band (470-512 MHz) spectrum currently used for public safety communications.  

Speaking to the International Association of Firefighters convention in Washington Monday (March 9), Pai made it clear he has no intention of auctioning or reallocating the T-band, but pointed out that mandate came from Congress. 

"For decades, this spectrum has been used by public safety licensees in 11 of our largest cities," he said. "But back in 2012, Congress passed legislation requiring the FCC to reallocate and auction this spectrum. 

In the 2012 the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, congress required the FCC to reallocate and auction the spectrum, which has been used for decades by public safety licensees, and to fund the relocation of those users elsewhere.  

Related: Pai Joins Call for Axing T-Band Auction

"The agency has taken a hard look at the T-band," said Pai. "And we’ve concluded that moving forward with an auction of it wouldn’t be feasible. The costs to relocate public safety licensees to other spectrum would probably be much higher than any potential auction revenue we’d get from companies bidding to win licenses for this spectrum. 

Because of these concerns, I called on Congress last December to repeal the T-band auction mandate. Currently, there are bills pending in Congress that would do just that. I’m hopeful that they can get the job done soon."  

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) last fall introduced the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act, which repeals the auction. Look for the bill's backers to team up with those in-town first responders this week to push for passage.  

Pai's opposition to that auction notwithstanding, and citing the fact that there is still a legislative mandate to auction the T-Band by 2021, the FCC in December suspended the processing of applications for T-Band licenses, including renewals, which likely helped light a fire on the Hill.  

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.