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Senate Dems: T-Band Must Be Protected

While the debate over auctioning C-Band spectrum has been grabbing all the recent headlines, it is the T-Band spectrum repurposing that has prompted some powerful senators to introduce a self-explanatory new bill, the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act.

The charter sponsors of the bill are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (both D-Mass.), Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-N.Y.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

The low-band (470 MHz to 512 MHz) T-Band spectrum is used for public safety communications.

The FCC is laser-focused on freeing up as much spectrum for auction as possible in the race to 5G. But this call is up to Congress.

The 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and job Creation Act directed the FCC to auction the band by 2021, with the proceeds used to relocate those public safety users elsewhere within two years after that.

The bill, which is only a few lines long, would simply repeal that provision in the 2012 act.

Following the Act's passage the FCC froze processing of applications for new/expanded T-band operations and told public safety entities to start planning. But it also said that it was committed "under any scenario" to ensure "the continuity of T-Band licensees’ public safety mission-critical communications."

The senators appear committed to doing so first responders don't have to look for new spectrum.

“We rely on our first responders in Massachusetts and across the country in emergency situations, and it’s up to us to give them the tools they need to do their job,” said Warren. “This bill allows our first responders to continue using the T-Band spectrum to communicate during emergencies, and to continue their courageous work efficiently and effectively.”

There are less than a dozen markets with public safety entities (over 900 of them) that hold T-band licenses, but they are the biggest ones: Boston; Chicago; Dallas/Fort Worth,; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; San Francisco/Oakland; Washington, D.C.

The senators point to a GAO study that said the cost of relocating would be $5 billion-$6 billion, with alternative bands "limited or nonexistent."

The FCC has said those alternatives are public safety channels in the VHF (150-174 MHz), UHF (450-470 MHz), 700 MHz, and 800 MHz bands, subject to availability. Schumer pledged to keep first responders on the T-Band spectrum until a suitable replacement is found.