According to a guide put out by the FCC (A Practical Guide to Narrowbanding), “The FCC rule applies to both conventional and trunked radio systems and affects all FCC-licensed state and local emergency response radio systems. Wideband radio operation will violate FCC regulations beginning in 2013, and agencies that do not meet the deadline face — enforcement action, including admonishments, monetary forfeitures and/or license revocation, as appropriate.”
Einsig says transit agencies “need to know that the FCC is serious about the deadline. The deadline is Jan. 1, 2013. I think that there is a lot of discussion around waivers and extensions, and the FCC has made it very clear that those waivers will only be made in exceptional cases. So, not having a contract to put in a new system or repair your existing system, not having a budget, not having a plan, not having a schedule are not reasons that are likely to be accepted by the FCC.”
Tilles stresses that not having the budget to narrowband won’t be tolerated. “I hear that all the time. I have two responses. No. 1, that’s always the excuse. You always hear there’s no money, there’s no money; I don’t care when we’re talking about. You can talk about the go-go days of the Clinton years, we still hear the same thing: we don’t have any money in our budget to do that. So get over it.”
He adds: “But just as importantly, there are a whole host of funding grants and programs through not only the FTA, but also through various public safety grants. Remember transit, you’ve got to think of yourself as public safety too.”
According to Mussenden the way violations are handled is a complaint-driven process. So for instance, if a licensee alleges that your system is causing them interference, one of the first steps the FCC will take in investigating the complaint is to determine whether or not your system is still operating in wideband mode. If so, you are operating outside the terms of your license. At a minimum, the FCC will direct you to find ways to eliminate the interference, but you may be subject to additional sanctions.
According to the FCC Public Notice DA 11-1189, which was issued July 13, 2011, “Operation in violation of the Commission’s rules may subject licensees to appropriate enforcement action, including admonishments, license revocation and/or monetary forfeitures of up to $16,000 for each such violation or each day of a continuing violation and up to $112,500 for any single act or failure to act.”
Approaching Your Updates
Tilles recommends that the first step agencies should take is to take a look at their own agency and figure out if they are of enough size that they need outside help. If you are going to need the help of a consultant, Tilles stresses how important it is to carefully vet your consultants.
“What happens is you get all these consultants that go, ‘I’m an expert in narrowbanding.’ Well, we’re a very small community, and if I haven’t seen them in the 30 years I’ve been doing land mobile, hmmm, not likely that they’re truly an expert consultant. Yet we have them crop up all the time. You’ve got to sort through those people and you’ve got to sort through the people who have a prejudice toward one vendor or another,” he says.
The next step, whether you are using a consultant or not, is to figure out what the impact will be on your agency. Tilles says to look at whether your radios need to be completely replaced or if they can be reprogrammed.
“Then the next thing you do is to figure out, OK, now that I have to do this work, what other work would I like to do while this is going on? Would I like to leverage this as an opportunity to increase our system’s services and the things we do on the system and what else do we want to do with that,” Tilles says.