The release of the Land Mobile Communications Council coordination guidelines for narrowband 150 and 450 MHz radio systems hopefully will bring some additional certainty regarding spectrum availability for those entities ready to move to narrowband. However, it is clear that many municipalities across the country are not being proactive about narrowbanding, while others are receiving confusing or incorrect information. During the next few years, we'll continue to revisit this issue to ensure that everyone is on the correct path.

While 2013 may sound like it is a long way off, once upon a time the 2009 digital television conversion was far in the future, too. Those who put off planning for the narrowband conversion may find that they are unable to meet the mandatory deadline. Remember, the penalty for failing to narrowband is not secondary operation, its loss of license.

Because for many licensees this narrowband conversion is more than a “screwdriver adjustment,” it is incumbent upon wideband users to do their homework on the various equipment options available from various manufacturers. Each transmission methodology has its advantages and disadvantages, and one size does not fit all in this instance. At the next IWCE, there literally will be hours of presentations on equipment and technology options, coordination issues, and spectrum opportunity brought about by the migration. Make sure you take advantage of these educational opportunities.

It can take a significant amount of time to convert a live wideband system to narrowband. This makes immediate planning very important. The time issue is particularly critical for public-safety licensees, who have to work around multiyear budgeting cycles. Given that many public-safety users on these frequencies are very small agencies, budgeting becomes a huge obstacle to overcome, one that make 2009 a critical year to move the ball forward.

In the past few years, we've had the luxury of a significant number of federal grants to upgrade public-safety communications systems. Unfortunately, that was before the current economic crisis. With tax dollars focused on rescuing the banking system, or making sure that the Big Three still have squad cars to sell you, what will happen to future federal grants for public-safety communications? It seems likely that far fewer funding sources can be expected, at least for the foreseeable future. This will make the narrowband transition even more difficult. Consequently, even more time should be factored into the mix when an agency considers when it must take action.

When all of these issues are taken into account, it is clear that immediate action to plan and time the transition is critical to meeting the 2013 deadline. The FCC has considered and reviewed the 2013 deadline for many, many years. Therefore, no licensee should expect that this deadline will be extended, and plans should be made accordingly.

Although funding may an issue, the good news is that the promises made by manufacturers are now bearing fruit. More narrowband-compliant equipment is becoming more readily available from more manufacturers. Again, IWCE 2009 will be an excellent venue to see the new offerings. A competitive equipment market is always good for users, and the narrowband transition may prove to be an excellent opportunity for users able to fund their conversions.

Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.