Urgent Matters

The readers always write: What should service shops do?

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The vast majority of the respondents to our recent poll question say that service shops should follow the letter of the law, even if it means losing a customer, if they are asked to work on radio equipment that does not comply with the FCC's narrowbanding rules.

Last month, the USMSS — a nationwide association of Motorola service partners — submitted a filing with the FCC seeking clarification regarding the rules and liabilities that service shops face when they are asked to work on radio equipment that does not comply with narrowbanding rules. When asked about the situation at the time, USMSS Executive Director Bill Dow told Urgent Communications that service shops were being put in a difficult situation, because some were being forced to choose between following FCC rules or losing business.

"They'll leave one of my members' location and go down the street to someone who says, 'I've got no problem with [adding the non-compliant frequencies],'" Dow said. "It puts us at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace — we would lose that customer.

"Not everybody plays by the same rules. If they're in this business, certainly there is a set of rules we should follow, but unfortunately, not everybody does."

Wondering how our readers felt about the issue, we posted a poll question on our website. As is often the case, our readers responded with vigor. Not only did 241 cast a vote on the subject (see graphic with results), 38 provided comments that varied widely in length and opinion.

Most respondents said that a service shop in this situation should follow the letter of the law, even if it means losing a customer.

"In my opinion, programming the customer's radio would be like selling a gun to a person who knowingly failed their background check," one commenter wrote. "It may be mostly the owner's responsibility to be legal, but why would we willingly aid them in breaking the law?"

But several other commenters argued that keeping the customer happy should be a service shop's first priority.

"One can certainly tell we not only have a bunch of (rats) on here, but a bunch of radio police who don't know much except to jump the gun," one commenter wrote. "If a customer brings me a wideband-only radio … and he wants to put it on GMRS (462), I am going to do it."

"The station licensee is the only one responsible for legal operation of his transmitter, not the repair tech," wrote another commenter. "If the station licensee has requested a change to his equipment that is in violation, he is the only one responsible for the consequences and the one to get a citation. Just have documentation that he requested the change ready if the FCC asks."

But this particular position elicited one very pointed response: "Obviously you don't know the true definition of ethics as long as dollar signs are in your eyes."

Meanwhile, several other commenters opined that while service shops should follow the law and refuse the business, they should not be put in the position of having to enforce FCC rules.

"Is a repair technician really required to examine all documentation associated with a licensee's operation prior to repairing a radio? If the licensee says, 'Make this radio work on my system,' then maybe so," one such commenter wrote. "If, on the other hand, the licensee comes into the shop and asks for specific frequencies and bands, then the licensee bears the responsibility for legal operation.

"Ethics requires us to highlight any issues we identify or suspect — and document we have done so — but we are not enforcers; we are not lawyers."

Upon hearing the results of our unscientific poll, Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA) President/CEO Mark Crosby said that he was impressed that 90% of the votes cast called for service shops to follow the letter of the law and refuse service.

Meanwhile, Dow said yesterday that he was pleased with the FCC's order that was released on March 14, expressing support for its clarifications and noting that it provides service shops with methods to contact the FCC with any questions.

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

Discuss this Blog Entry 5

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 9, 2013

There is no way a service shop can exist and maintain any customers if it has to do the FCC job for them.
Should I call ICS everytime I see someone I know is a illegal alien and if I did what would they do about it?
Should I take a picture of every person who doesnt observe traffic signs or stop at a light??
If the service shop is truly required to turn in customers who are breaking FCC laws then compensate them with a nice finders fee from the government since the shop is basically doing what the government is not capable of managing.
People who dont convert to narrowbanding will slowly be weeded out by their neighbors or not allowed to use the local public service repeaters in their area.... police our own is always preferred over the Feds.

RGP (not verified)
on Apr 9, 2013

When I started in the field (1969) not only did the FCC require a tech to be licensed we also were required to verify the end user had a valid FCC license and radios operated properly. I know of a couple of techs who did nor follow the rules and lost their ticket. Then the FCC started to lower the standard - allowing other testing and certification. Later still they dropped all licenses/certification qualifications. Now the question is should individual techs only work on licensed radios. The present situation was caused by the FCC changing the rules and playing field. Until the FCC steps up and assumes the responsibilty it so willingly dropped this issue will not go away. The FCC is way out of line if they point the finger at any radio user or tech for not following the rules - they caused the problem. The solution is simple go back to requiring techs to have an FCC license again to work on or program radios. Bring back the "professional" techs and get the internet only and guys working out of their garage out of the 2-way business. Requiring testing/certification prior to any tech receiving a 1st Class License and requiring all individuals who repair or program radios to be licensed will go a long way to correct this problem which only hurts the profressional radio company/tech who wants to follow the rules and do the right thing.

Field Service Engineer (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2013

I worked for a small radio shop in the Chicagoland area. The owner advertised that there was two FCC Licensed technicians but actually I was the only individual that held a First Class Commercial Radiotelephone License, He had an Amateur Radio Technician License, talk about false advertising and his electronic craftsmanship was even worse! I spent about 3.5 years working for the guy and then there was a blow up between him and I. I moved on to a better service organization and he eventually went out of business due to a lot of poor and unscrupulous business decisions. My Commercial License meant a lot more to me even though it wasn't required to perform the work.

I've even seen Job requirements still wanting the Commercial License and this is long after the FCC dropped the requirements. Apparently, many Public Safety Departments base a person's ability and knowledge while performing work on their systems equipment on having the Commercial License. I've heard though business associates that it's very difficult finding qualified personnel to do the basic radio repairs, installations and removals, let alone having someone who understands system design, FCC Rules & Regulations, implementation and maintenance.

peted (not verified)
on Oct 10, 2013

This narrowbanding remind me of my first job in UK (. Pye Telecom) in 1969 was narrow banding 25KHZ mid Band and High Band VHF radios to 12.5KHZ. UHF was narrow banded from 50KHZ to 25KHZ at about the same time. Crystal technology of the time wouldn't let us do 12.5KZ at UHF. We could just reduce the TX deviation in FM and place more top end filtering in the audio path. For AM it was just the TX audio filter. The receiver could have the 2nd IF filter changed (expensive) and the Discriminator components (usually just two resistors) changed for upping RX Audio level. But in all reality touching the RX was the choice on the user if they wanted best RX Performance. The TX was mandatory though. A lot users in those days rented from Pye, so they were upgraded by Pye at no cost to the users. So in a way UK went narrow band 44 years ago. Beats me why USA took so long to do this especially with the US Spectrum congestion.

GBH (not verified)
on Oct 17, 2013

The FCC should allow a service technician to achieve narrowbanding by setting the peak transmitter deviation to 2.5 KHz, rather than requiring the radio to be type accepted at the narrower bandwidth. The manufacturers like the requirement for a narrowband type accepted radio, as it allows them to sell new radios. Because of the expense required to buy new radios, it also encourages cheating as described in the question. With this provision, the FCC could get the spectrum conservation it wants, the technician would be prevented from having to make a choice between legality and financial liquidity, and everybody (except the radio manufacturer who wants to sell you another radio) is happy!

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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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