APCO Challenges FCC Over 6 GHz Band

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The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) asked the FCC to stay and reverse its decision to allow unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. Such moves are rare for the association, but APCO said the action was necessary given the real risk of “irreparable harm” to public safety.

In April, the FCC voted to make more spectrum available for unlicensed use to support things like next-generation WiFi in the 6 GHz band, which is mostly used for licensed point-to-point microwave links. Multiple public safety organizations voiced concerns with the agency’s plan. 

Public safety agencies extensively use the 6 GHz band for mission critical systems that support operational needs such as dispatching first responders and maintaining land mobile radio communications during incidents. Disruption to these systems could have “dire consequences,” according to APCO. Other current users of the 6 GHz band use links for coordination of railroad train movements, control of natural gas and oil pipelines, management of electric grids, and telephone service.

Microwave links require prior frequency coordination and an FCC license to operate, and they’re extremely dependable. If the 6 GHz band becomes unreliable for mission critical communications, public safety agencies will not have good options, the association says. “In the best-case scenario, public safety agencies would have to pay to switch to fiber connections or less suitable microwave links that would likely involve much higher costs (and it’s not clear that such options would even be available). That’s not fair to public safety, and there’s a way to share spectrum without so much risk,” explains APCO in a blog post.

The association told the FCC it wasn’t completely opposed to sharing the 6 GHz band with unlicensed users, provided the approach was evaluated and proven effective before putting public safety communications at risk. APCO claims that’s not what happened, that the agency adopted the new rules without directly addressing public safety’s concerns.

The agency said when it voted it did consider all incumbent users, including public safety. APCO would like the Commission to hit “pause” on the new rules and rethink the approach. The FCC could solicit comment on the Petition for Reconsideration and Petition for Stay or deny them.

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