Urgent Matters

FCC should consider LMCC narrowbanding idea

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In less than seven months, all UHF and VHF systems in the United States are supposed to meet the FCC’s narrowbanding requirement that networks operating at these frequencies should be using 12.5 kHz channels instead of 25 kHz channels. No one in the industry believes this will occur, so there is considerable interest about what should happen to licensee that fails to comply.

So far, the FCC has given no indication that it will alter the Jan. 1, 2013, compliance date for narrowbanding, and no national organization is pushing for an extension. But narrowbanding work is not proceeding as many had hoped, for a variety of reasons, with the most legitimate being a lack of funding sources for licensees struggling financially in a slumbering economy. Even with the best intentions and planning, some entities simply do not have the money to spare to complete this unfunded mandate by the FCC’s deadline.

Other reasons are more questionable, with some licensees acting as if they do not know the narrowbanding mandate exists — and some may not, because the contact person for the licensee may not be with the entity — while others brazenly ignore the mandate, practically daring the FCC to shut down their communications networks.

FCC officials have been clear that non-compliance with narrowbanding is a violation of FCC rules that is punishable by admonishments, fines and potentially license revocation. However, they’ve also stated that the FCC will investigate non-compliance only after a complaint is filed. If there is no complaint against a licensee, nothing will be done.

But a recommendation from the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) calls for measures that could provide a potentially greater incentive for UHF and VHF operators to comply with narrowbanding without involving the FCC’s enforcement bureau, which probably has enough to do already. Under the LMCC plan, systems that do not comply with the narrowbanding mandate would be ignored from a frequency-coordination standpoint, and the channels can be used by new licensees.

Now, there certainly are some key questions to be addressed, such as the timing and procedure. In addition, should the incumbent licensee that is non-compliant be ignored altogether, or should coordination continue around them based upon eventual adoption of 12.5 kHz technology? Legitimate arguments can be made for either approach.

While such issues should be clarified, the FCC definitely should consider the LMCC recommendation seriously, as it could be a way to provide some needed incentives to licensees to comply with narrowbanding, without having to use resources from the agency’s enforcement bureau.

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Glenn Bischoff

Glenn Bischoff is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Urgent Communications magazine. Over a 30-year journalism career, his publications have won several ASBPE awards for editorial excellence. He...

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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