The FCC allocated the 4940-4990 MHz band (4.9 GHz) for Public Safety use back in 2002. Over the past twenty years, the Commission has made various changes to the rules applicable to the band in order to promote more effective and efficient use of the spectrum and to incentivize more robust public safety services. As a result, various applications have evolved to make use of the band. For example, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has invested in a multibillion-dollar project (Federally funded) that uses the band for both transit systems (train control) and police video cameras. This example helps to illustrate that there is strong interest in the band for both public safety and critical infrastructure applications, and many see these applications as being complementary. Despite these and other efforts to utilize the band, the FCC has been generally disappointed with the band’s limited uses and has had an open proceeding for nearly ten years to consider how to improve utilization.
In 2020, the Public Safety Spectrum Alliance (PSSA) recommended that the spectrum be assigned to FirstNet. Note: The PSSA is comprised of former public safety officials that are supportive of FirstNet. While this proposal received some support from public safety, the existing public safety licensees in the band opposed that proposal, as did the National Sheriffs Association, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), APCO, and others. In January, the FCC released a Seventh Report and Order (Order) and Ninth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Further Notice) in the proceeding. The Order rejected the PSSA proposal and established a new Band Manager framework to both protect current public safety uses of the band and to promote new uses that would complement these uses. The Further Notice seeks comment on a variety of proposed rules that would make that new framework more effective. Comments are due April 13.