Urgent Matters

The readers always write — this time on narrowbanding

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Prevailing attitude is that the FCC should allow the spectrum of non-compliant licensees to be reallocated — an outcome that is wholly impractical.

The FCC's deadline to convert land-mobile-radio systems operating below 512 MHz (actually, 470 MHz, thanks to the waiver given to T-Band systems) to 12.5 kHz-wide channels from the traditional 25 kHz-wide channels — a process known as narrowbanding — has come and gone. Now the LMR sector awaits the commission's guidance as to what should happen next; specifically, how should non-compliant licensees — and there are scads of them — be treated?

There are two basic approaches:

  • As suggested by the Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC), non-compliant licensees should be treated as if they no longer exist, which means that frequency coordinators could reallocate their spectrum to other users.
  • Non-compliant users should be protected — essentially, they would be considered to have narrowbanded even if they have yet to complete, or even start, the work — which buys them additional time to get into compliance. This approach would ensure that a 12.5 kHz-wide channel is available to them when they finally complete the project, although they still would be subject to enforcement action by the commission in the interim should they interfere with the operations of compliant licensees.

We asked our readers what they thought should happen. Three out of four respondents believed that the former approach was more appropriate. Some respondents provided commentary. These comments generally were of the "screw 'em" variety.

Here are a few examples (See all comments.):

"The original FCC requirement for narrowbanding was issued in 1994. If you have not done so by now, you had no intention of fulfilling the requirement, and your license should be cancelled. If you are found to be operating with an emission mask greater than allowed, a notice of apparent violation should be issued."

"What sense do rules make, if they will not be enforced? Many agencies have complied with the mandate, many at considerable expense. The FCC has 'drawn the line' as the saying goes, and, to have any legitimacy, they must follow through."

"Licensees who invested significant time and money to bring their current radio systems into compliance or purchased new compliant radio systems should be rewarded with access to spectrum held by licensees who failed to heed FCC warnings regarding the narrowbanding deadline."

"Most of us have narrowbanded at considerable expense. Screw them! If you are non-compliant, you are illegal."

"Why should someone who has failed to narrowband his license in the approximately 15 years since the FCC mandated narrowband be given preference over someone who wants a license to operate narrowband now?"

Of these, the one that resonates with me is the second. Rules are meaningless unless they are enforced, and sanctions have little or no impact if they don't hurt. In a black-and-white world, the FCC would revoke the licenses and cast the scofflaws adrift. But we don't live in such a world — ours is shaped by many, many shades of gray. Accordingly, treating the non-compliant licensees as if they don't exist and then reallocating their spectrum to compliant users is wholly impractical.

As UC Editor Donny Jackson reported today, an estimated 20,000 public-safety licensees still have to file narrowbanding applications. It would be one thing to shut down a business/industrial user — the FCC might be able to get away with that — but there is no way that it will shut down a public-safety entity. Can you imagine the outcry if someone's house burned to the ground because the fire department couldn't dispatch a crew? Can you imagine the litigation that would follow?

So, the FCC's only real recourse here, distasteful as it is, is to fine heavily the municipalities whose police, fire and EMS agencies have failed to narrowband. The fines should be incurred daily, so as to provide incentive for expediting the work that already should have been completed. Of course, the FCC has to be consistent in its enforcement, so it will need to treat B/I licensees in the same manner.

Those who incur fines will complain. Too bad. As several readers have pointed out, they have had more than a decade to plan for narrowbanding — so no excuses, and no sympathy.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Radio Randy (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

I understand the legitimate concern of a house burning down because a system was shut down. On the other hand, with no valid license, the system should not exist in the first place.
Cancelling a license and heavily fining the system owner is the only possible solution since you can't simply go and pull the "big switch". In addition, the violating owners should have no recourse against the interference suffered by a new, legally licensed, narrowband user on the frequency.
It sounds cold and people might cry "it's public safety", but the truth is that this society has gone too long in allowing the wrong folks a "second chance" and putting those that did everything by the book, at the end of the line, rather than at the front.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 8, 2013

I am a small Mom and Pop company with 6 FB6 licenses. I have companies on my repeaters that refuse to narrow band. As the owner of a FB6 licnese, where does that leave me legally with those customer that have chosen to ride the rails?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 9, 2013

Well, legally, I think you will not be in trouble if they continue to use your repeaters IF you have narrowbanded the repeaters properly. What will happen is they will have problems using it, over-deviation, clipping, etc. And when they complain, tell them the truth. Although with an FB6, I think they are using your license, so you may be responsible.
As far as repair goes, yes, if you officially check out one of their radios without narrowbanding it (if it can be), then you could be in trouble, similar to if you put frequencies they are not authorized for in it. If it is not narrowband compliant, technically I don't think you can give it back to them. Again, it would be like supplying a customer with an illegal radio, say giving them a made-for-ham rig, and putting it on commercial, or letting them use ham bands for their business.
But I would send them a letter to that effect as soon as possible, that you cannot work on non-narrowband compliant equipment legally, etc.
That's my take on it. And I would err on the side of keeping my licenses and business in tact.

JohnB (not verified)
on Jan 9, 2013

You are responsible. The license is in your name and you own the repeaters. Suspend their access from any shared repeater access until they come into compliance, or let them find some other means of communication if they still refuse.

resham (not verified)
on Jan 14, 2013

The FCC needs to tread lightly even though the deadline is past. If the FCC fines a public safety department heavily then the municipality looses money and lays off some of the Police and fire department personnel or worse the municipality goes bankrupt and again the house burns down or no police response during a home invasion because of long response times due to overworked/ lack of Fire or PD personnel and the FCC looks like the bad guy either way. Sorry to say but It's going to be a no win situation for the FCC no matter how they handle the stragglers.

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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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