As of May, just seven months from the FCC’s VHF and UHF narrowbanding deadline, 40 percent of VHF and UHF licenses were still operating in wideband-only mode, according to FCC data. The deadline for public-safety and other mission-critical communications licenses to move from 25- to 12.5-kilohertz or smaller bandwidth channels is Jan. 1, 2013.
In May, 43,523 licenses still had wideband-only designations. About 38.3 percent of all VHF and UHF licenses — 41,253 licenses — were in the transition to narrowband mode. Just more than 21 percent, or 22,889 licenses, were operating in narrowband-only mode, according to FCC data.
The total number of licenses in the spectrum required to narrowband decreased from 109,279 in 2010 to 107,665 in 2012. That drop is likely because some former VHF and UHF licenses moved to other spectrum bands, joined regional or statewide networks or switched to commercial cellular services, said Roberto Mussenden, attorney/adviser in the policy division of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB).
“Systems that are operating wideband will have interoperability problems and will create interference problems,” said Mussenden during a webinar on narrowbanding. Frequency coordinators plan to treat wideband licenses as if they are vacant after the deadline.
The Land Mobile Communications Council (LMCC) said that effective Feb. 1, 2013, non-compliant 25-kilohertz systems in the 150 – 470 MHz bands “shall not be considered by the FCC’s certified frequency advisory committees for purposes of identifying frequency assignments for use within land mobile systems absent a pending modification application evidencing narrowbanding compliance or a pending or granted waiver request that seeks an extension of the January 1, 2013, narrowbanding deadline.” According to the LMCC, this coordination procedure will promote compliance with the narrowbanding mandate and the identification of exclusive-use channels critical for assignment within hybrid/centralized trunked systems, which support spectrum efficiency. The FCC hasn’t formally accepted the procedure, but the LMCC recommended that the FCC report its approval in a future public notice addressing narrowbanding issues.
Mussenden reminded webinar attendees of the consequences for violating FCC rules. Those consequences include admonishments, monetary forfeitures of up to $16,000 for each violation or each day of continuing violation or up to $112,500 for a single act, and license revocation. He also said if the FCC receives an interference complaint from a licensee operating in wideband mode, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau will investigate the violation.
“If you’re dealing with our Enforcement Bureau, you’re not doing your regular job, so you have an additional hit on your budget,” he said. “There are opportunity costs that you will have to incur.”
Mussenden also highlighted several narrowbanding resources. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) provides a narrowbanding status tracking tool and other resources at http://publicsafetytools.info
The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) offers a list of people who have volunteered to be points of contact to assist in narrowbanding at www.npstc.org/narrowbanding.jsp