New York City Transit granted 42-month narrowbanding waiver: Is it enough?
Eight months ago, Deltek Analyst Kristin Howe reported on a House bill that would extend the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) narrowbanding deadline from January 2013 to January 2015. That bill went nowhere in a hurry, and with the formal FCC deadline fast approaching, what does this mean for agencies big and small? One of the largest and most complex radio systems in the country is utilized by the New York City Transit (NYCT), a subset of the more-common agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). NYCT was recently granted a 42-month extension by the FCC to meet its narrowbanding requirement. NYCT is not the only agency that received a waiver, but the massive undertakings required by the MTA and NYCT may set the tone for smaller agencies.
When we delve a bit further into NYCT, we can see why the undertaking is so enormous. According to the FCC waiver, NYCT operates 119 different radio sites, 83 of which are underground – the entire system operates approximately 15,000 radios. Considering the size of New York City and the transit system, plus the fact that the system runs 24 hours a day without shutting down for maintenance, the narrowbanding work must be completed during work hours with the use of service diversions that must be completed prior to rush hours.
Complicating things even more, the NYC Comptroller rejected a contract that was awarded to SAIC, Inc. in 2010 to upgrade the transit system’s VHF radio system in favor of soliciting bids with a second request for proposals (RFP) in mid-2011. The second RFP yielded a contract with Alcatel-Lucent for more than $100 million. Due to the enormity of the upgrade that Alcatel-Lucent must complete, the FCC granted the city three-and-a-half years to meet the narrowbanding requirements. However, after looking at the entire picture, will that be enough time to complete such a difficult project? Based on the city’s track record with its failed 911 system, one might say, “No.” The FCC and the city, on the other hand, believe the time will be sufficient.
Most agencies will not be granted such lengthy extensions. Missouri’s St. Louis County, St. Charles County, and the 9-1-1 Dispatch Board of Jefferson County, along with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, were granted a one-year extension to complete narrowbanding. Agencies seeking a waiver from the FCC must have an executable plan in place for implementation; it won’t fly if you haven’t done anything up until now and are seeking a waiver. More details on the FCC waiver can be found here.
It is my belief that providing a multiyear extension for all agencies, which House Bill 3430 would have granted, would have been a mistake. Agencies should be required to apply for their own extension, and the time granted should be on a case-by-case basis. Vendors currently working with agencies to complete narrowbanding requirements should ensure that the time between now and the January 2013 deadline is sufficient. If not, those vendors should work with agencies to determine if an extension is still possible. Developing a case for an extension is essential, so vendors must be willing to admit fault if delays were caused by their work, or determine what external issues caused the delays.