Pennsylvania County Says FCC Mandate Will Cost $100 Million

Published October 25, 2011

Bucks County, Pennsylvania has joined a growing number of U.S. municipalities claiming the Federal Communications Commission’s narrowbanding mandate poses insurmountable financial hardships. Bucks County officials estimate compliance with the transition will cost approximately $100 million.

Despite complaints from Bucks County and other regional public safety and business land mobile radio system operators, the FCC has declared it will not adjust its January 2013 deadline. After the deadline, noncompliant operators will be subjected to FCC sanctions, which could include fines, suspension of radio-operating licenses, or an FCC “admonishment,” according to the FCC’s Web site.

The transition—announced in 2006—requires local government mobile radio systems to replace current 25 kHz technology with 12.5 kHz technology to allow more efficient channel access and capacity of two radio spectrums between, respectively, 150 MHz and 174 MHz and 421 MHz and 512 MHz.

According to the FCC, compliance with the narrowbanding initiative does not require analog-to-digital upgrades as long as the public safety radio systems, schools (including school buses), transportation departments, mass-transit agencies, and community watches meet the 12.5 kHz mandated deadline.

$100 Million Bill
Motorola Solutions signed a $37.2 million contract with Bucks County to aid the process, but county officials maintain the project will cost around $100 million.

Bill Wardell, host of the Web program CyberHood Watch Radio, says the FCC’s mandate places an unnecessary financial burden on communities such as Bucks County. “In long-term contracts like this one, Motorola will be the big winner in making these upgrades,” Wardell said.

“With the FCC mandating these types of upgrades without creating a plan or allocating federal monies and incentives to offset costs, it will be difficult for small towns across America to implement without tax increases,” he added.

“Once again, we have seen big business in bed with political leaders and special interest groups, lining their pockets and making a very private few a lot of money over the next few years, or until the next time they decide to upgrade again,” Wardell said.

The Bucks County scenario shows the FCC once again mandating unnecessary spending of  taxpayers’ money, says Kevin Cullis, a technology author based in Denver, Colorado. “The simple principle is to define the problem precisely in order to arrive at the precise answer,” said Cullis. “It’s not throwing money at an issue to see if it solves the problem,” he said.

“Any time someone in government [issues a mandate], I’m suspicious of the solution and the costs,” Cullis continued. “It essentially becomes a tax that citizens must continually pay.”

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Austin, Texas.