Sprint's 800 MHz LTE plans get boost after senators urge State Dept. to pressure Mexico on rebanding

Sprint's (NYSE: S) years-long effort to be able to fully deploy its 800 MHz spectrum along the Mexican and Canadian borders got a boost after 29 U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry urging pressure on Mexican regulators to direct Mexican licensees in the band to retune to new channels.

Once that happens, U.S. public-safety organizations can retune their own channels, and then Sprint can move to fully use its spectrum and deploy LTE in the 800 MHz band along the border.

The letter was signed by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and a bipartisan group of 28 other senators. The letter noted that in 2004 the FCC required 800 MHz license holders and public-safety communications providers to work together to resolve potentially harmful interference. After years of negotiations, in 2012, the U.S. and Mexico struck an agreement called the "Revised Protocol." The deal is a shared band plan, allowing license holders on both sides of the border to use the 800 MHz band. The band plan lets U.S. licensees fully operate in border communities in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

However, since then, the Federal Telecommunications Institute (the Mexican counterpart to the FCC) has not directed Mexican license holders to retune to new channels. Until that happens, the process can't move forward.

The senators wrote that they are "deeply concerned over the ongoing delay in the Mexican government in implementing the Revised Protocol." The lawmakers asked that by May 8, Kerry detail what actions the State Department intends to take, including working with the FCC to engage with Mexican regulators.

A State Department spokeswoman did not immediately have a comment.

Concurrently, public-safety officials also wrote to the State Department to urge the U.S. government to make the issue a "top U.S. priority." Officials from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of State EMS Officials and the National Sheriffs Association wrote to Amb. Daniel Sepulveda, who serves as coordinator for international communications and information policy.

In that letter, they noted that 800 MHz rebanding is essentially done but there are some major gaps remaining. Those include Washington State, 82 counties in California and Arizona (including Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.), Las Vegas, and major portions of New Mexico and West and South Texas.

They noted that "virtually every state and local public safety in the border area has secured funding to improve and modernize their 800 MHz systems as part of the rebanding process. However, they cannot take full advantage of these funds until 800 MHz licensees on the Mexican side of the border have first been retuned to make U.S. public safety replacement spectrum available consistent with the Revised Protocol."

Interestingly, one of the major Mexican license holders in the 800 MHz band is NII Holdings' Nextel Mexico operations, which AT&T (NYSE: T) just this week finished acquiring.

The cost of retuning the Mexican licensees is covered under the agreement, so NII and small license holders won't have to spend their money to retune.

"Continued delay by Mexico to implement the agreement delays our ability to modernize public safety communications and expand the availability of competitive wireless services in the U.S," Vonya McCann, senior vice president of government affairs at Sprint, said in a statement. "This strong statement by a bipartisan group of senators shows how important it is for the Mexican government to implement the international spectrum sharing agreement now."

For more:
- see this letter from senators
- see this letter from public-safety officials 

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