Stuck in the middle
The FCC has carved a middle ground on narrowbanding in its response to NPSTC’s petition to stay the three Jan. 1, 2011, deadlines. (See “FCC nixes key 2011 narrowbanding deadlines“) In doing so, the commission has ensured that licensees will continue to have access to wideband-capable equipment, while at the same time preventing additional wideband model development.
The commission now has decided to extend the manufacturing deadline until the ultimate narrowbanding deadline of Jan. 1, 2013. By permitting manufacture of wideband-capable units until Dec. 31, 2012, the FCC has made sure that licensees will have access to new radios (although not newly created models of radios) for their legacy wideband radio systems until the narrowbanding deadline. This alleviates concerns over users needing to scour e-Bay to keep systems running during the transition.
There should be concern, however, that the lifting of the manufacturing ban may lead some to delay their transition. During a recent lunch with a longtime two-way radio dealer, I asked about how narrowbanding efforts with his customers were coming along. I wasn’t shocked to hear that a good number of his customers were waiting to narrowband, but I was surprised to hear why.
The dealer told me that many of his customers were waiting to narrowband because they were concerned that replacing all of their equipment today might mean missing out on LMR’s “next big thing” tomorrow — or before 2013. In other words, why buy an iPad now, if a new model with additional features is going to come out in a few months?
Because radio systems are such long-term investments (remember, a VHF or UHF radio system that isn’t narrowband-capable is at least 10 years old), it is logical to want to delay the purchase until the last moment, so as to buy the most current model or technology. This approach make senses in the narrow, single- licensee view. However, when viewed in the context of the industry, the potential downsides of this approach become evident.
If every licensee waits until the last minute to implement the process, there is a significant danger that there will not be enough manpower and/or equipment available to implement the change-out by Jan. 1, 2013. There are simply not enough technicians to go around, and manufacturers do not keep huge stocks of LMRs on hand. Late adopters likely will have problems.
In its order regarding the NPSTC petition, the FCC again made note that post-2012 wideband operation is unauthorized. The commission has made clear that such operation exposes the licensee to fines and/or license revocation. The commission is unlikely to be sympathetic to a licensee’s request for an extension of the 2013 date, if such a request is based upon the lack of available manpower or equipment for work that began in mid-2012.
Of course, there are some public-safety licensees that believe that, because they are public safety, the FCC won’t take action against them. However, the commission has fined or denied authorizations for similar failures on numerous occasions. Public-safety radio system administrators would be hard-pressed to explain to local officials why the city or county received a fine for ignoring a mandate that has existed for so long.
Hopefully such instances will be few and far between.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.