Local Services Scramble to Meet FCC Narrowband Deadline

Published May 31, 2016

Fire Chief Shane Gallant said he has a $30,000 budget for his 15-person fire department in Canton, Maine. This year, $10,000 of that went to upgrading radios and pagers to make them conform to the Federal Communications Commission’s “narrowbanding” edict by January 1, 2013.

Canton isn’t the only municipality facing a budget crunch in its attempts to satisfy the nationwide FCC narrowbanding mandate. Local governments throughout the nation have been forced to slash operating budgets as monies from states and federal agencies increasingly wither and local tax revenues decrease.

Gallant said he had eight radios and eight pagers that had to be bought because they were older and not capable of being adapted. “It’s a financial issue more than anything,” Gallant said. “We’re a small town. We have older trucks which constantly need maintenance. When my budget runs out, we have to hope there are no breakdowns.”

Deadline Must Be Met
The FCC narrowbanding effort began nearly 20 years ago, when the initiative was called “Refarming.” The rules require all public safety and business land mobile radio systems operating on spectrums between 150 MHz and 174MHz and, additionally, between 421 MHz and 512 MHz transition from 25 kHz technology to 12.5 kHz technology.

By “narrowing” the bandwidth, the FCC says it will allow additional as well as more efficient channel access and capacity within the same radio spectrum. The cost to upgrade equipment, however minimal when the mandate was issued in 2006, is presenting serious issues for some cash-strapped municipalities.

The 2013 deadline, says the FCC, will not be adjusted. Those who don’t meet the deadline face FCC enforcement which could include “admonishment, monetary fines, or loss of license,” according to the FCC Web page dedicated to the narrowbanding transition.

The FCC does not require analog-to-digital upgrades as part of its mandate as long as the 12.5 kHz requirement is met by schools (including school buses), transportation departments, mass-transit agencies, and community watches in addition to public safety radio systems.

‘Plenty of Notice’
While the mandate might present financial hardship for some communities, others upgraded equipment when finances were more plentiful. Allen Caldwell, senior advisor for government relations for the International Association of Firefighters, said his organization has been alerting its members about the upgrade since 2006.

Fire Chief Ron Smith runs the fire department in John Day, Oregon, which has 12 volunteer members. About five years ago, Smith said the department bought new equipment and made sure at that time the radios were narrowband capable.

“We knew this was coming for several years,” Smith said. “Even if you have to phase radios in for three to four years, you could lower the costs.”

Smith said the cost to narrowband his equipment was just $500.

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan.

Internet Info:

“VHF/UHF Narrowbanding Information,” Federal Communications Commission/Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau site: http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/narrowbanding.html