The Internet has been responsible, in part, for huge changes in the land mobile radio industry. At the operational level, voice-over IP has changed the way that many systems communicate. Even more dramatic has been the availability of information about systems and regulations.
Twenty-five years ago, private LMR information was confined to FCC orders and those who collected them. If you did not keep these documents, they were gone forever. Who has a copy of the FCC’s early ’80s public notice concerning demonstration licenses? Only a few of us. Even the FCC had trouble keeping track of its own private land mobile radio decisions.
Now, everything is available on the FCC’s Web site. Want to know who operates on a particular channel? There’s a search engine for that. Want to find a particular decision on an issue? You’re only a few clicks away.
This plethora of information also has a downside. Information overload — and the ability of virtually anyone to provide commentary and opinion — has led to a tremendous amount of misinformation permeating the Web about important land mobile topics.
A number of issues of critical importance to the industry have been distorted on the Web. Narrowbanding, rebanding, construction rules, carrier obligations are but a few of the confused issues. When industry members rely on these misinterpretations of law, licenses can be lost, fines can be imposed and opportunities can be missed.
This problem can be particularly acute where the misinformation comes from what may at first blush appear to be an authoritative source, including some application-preparation service providers. Even relying on an attorney may not be the best option unless that attorney has real experience in your particular area, a problem that has been rife in rebanding.
But how should one proceed to avoid the pitfalls? Should you opt for legal counsel, be sure to vet the potential attorney to ensure familiarity with your needs. Further, discussions about expectations, billing procedures and results should be had.
Of course, not every project warrants the involvement of counsel, and cost may be an issue. Many attorneys in the land mobile area employ licensing specialists with billing rates comparable to private licensing firms. The advantage here is that the attorney supervises the specialist’s work, and there is the protection of insurance that most licensing firms do not have.
The next best option is reliance on frequency advisory committees. These trade associations employ specialists who deal with problems such as yours every day. There may be areas in which the association cannot advocate on your behalf, but membership always is worthwhile.
Attendance at industry events also can be a rewarding experience. Presenters often are the same professionals discussed above, and the events present an opportunity to acquire important information at minimal expense.
Internet chat boards and word-of-mouth information should be used only as a starting point. Well-meaning individuals are not necessarily as knowledgeable about your particular situation as you may need. These resources have some value, but they cannot provide definitive interpretations of FCC rules and policies. The potential consequences of misreliance on Internet information can be significant for an FCC licensee. Proceed with caution.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.
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 [email protected].