At a Capitol Hill event on Monday, regional wireless carriers, rural concerns and other members of a newly-formed alliance urged the FCC by the end of this year to establish a unified band class in the lower 700 MHz band that would facilitate the usage of interoperable devices. Members of the new Interoperability Alliance include C-Spire Wireless, MetroPCS, King Street Wireless, SouthernLINC, Vulcan Wireless, U.S. Cellular, the Competitive Carriers Association (formerly the Rural Cellular Association), Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation Open Technology Institute. Although a representative of Sprint Nextel attended Monday’s event, the carrier is not listed as a member of the alliance. At issue is a lower 700 MHz band class (Band Class 17) that has been proposed by AT&T and that has been endorsed by Verizon Wireless as a means of protecting the carriers’ B- and C-block operations from interference from digital TV Channel 51 and from high-powered operations in the E-block. Characterizing the Band Class 17 proposal as essential in preventing such interference, AT&T and Verizon have urged the FCC to reject proposals, advocated primarily by rural carriers licensed on lower A-block channels, for an alternate band class (Band Class 12) that covers Blocks A through C and would enable interoperability throughout the lower 700 MHz band. However, advocates of interoperability point to the results of tests, submitted previously to the FCC, that prove operations in Band Class 12 would not result in degraded service for Block B and C users. Lamenting that the lack of interoperability “makes it impossible for us to provide a seamless network for customers,” a U.S. Cellular executive told the audience at Monday’s event: “there is no technical reason whatsoever that we cannot have interoperability.” As a spokesman for Sprint Nextel pointed out the benefits of interoperability for public safety agencies, AT&T urged the FCC to “reject these calls for unnecessary government intrusion in the competitive wireless industry,” warning that “having government mandates in this area will do nothing but slow down the deployment of next-generation mobile broadband.”