How to avoid a debacle
A decision made many years ago. A major education effort to inform users. Legislation by Congress to try to limit the financial impact.
Yet despite these efforts, we have a major uproar in Washington over the digital television conversion deadline in February. As of this writing, four-month delays are being considered.
This decision has a major impact on the public-safety radio industry (as well as others). This treasured spectrum has been promised to public safety for many, many years. It already is in use in a number of areas. While perhaps a delay of four months might not seem large in the big picture, it must be acknowledged that it certainly won’t be the only delay sought if the first one is granted.
Any delay that allows some television stations to remain analog has a significant impact. The daisy chain of stations moving to new channels depends on most stations moving. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) predicts that the delay will cost its members $22 million. All of this translates into further uncertainty for public-safety users.
The volume of public-service announcements on every one of my local TV stations indicates to me that anyone who hasn’t gotten it by now won’t in the next four months. The failure of the education effort serves as an important lesson for the private radio industry. Although all the educational efforts in the world won’t result in every 150 and 450 MHz licensee becoming educated regarding the upcoming narrowbanding mandate, the more that can be done as soon as possible, the fewer folks will be operating wideband at the applicable deadline. And, while the DTV conversion is fairly straightforward for the non-techie to understand, the narrowbanding rules are somewhat complicated.
Certainly, the amount of misunderstanding that we’ve seen in the industry about narrowbanding rules indicates that much, much more needs to be done, and soon. There are people who believe that they can continue to operate wideband on a secondary basis (not true). There are people who believe that the FCC will extend the deadline, thus justifying a delay in their decision to narrowband. And there are others who believe that the FCC will simply drop the mandate.
In addition to these misconceptions, there are “devil-in-the-detail” questions that the FCC needs to address now so that licensees can made adequate plans. For example, what will the FCC do with licenses that have not been modified by the user by the applicable deadline? Will the commission cancel that license? Will it automatically modify these licenses?
Now that the Land Mobile Communications Council has done its work developing coordination guidelines, and now that groups such as IWCE and APCO are engaged in major educational efforts, it’s time for the FCC to step up to the plate. We need the FCC to begin issuing Public Notices detailing procedures and expectations regarding narrowbanding. Without this effort, rumors will continue to abound. Given the number of licensees who are small businesses or small agencies in these bands, such rumors become fact, at least to them.
We don’t wish to revisit the DTV deadline madness in the narrowbanding proceeding. We need the FCC’s assistance to help minimize that possibility.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.