On November 15, Representative Steve Rothman (D–NJ–9) introduced House Resolution 3430 “to direct the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] to extend the final deadline for private land mobile radio licensees to migrate to narrowband technology by two years.” This would push the deadline from January 1, 2013, to January 1, 2015. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where it is currently under review.
The idea of narrowbanding was initially conceived after communication difficulties that occurred on 9/11 were uncovered. Firefighters couldn’t speak with police officers and sometimes each other, depending on what jurisdiction they were from. Through narrowbanding, the FCC hopes to create a fully interoperable public safety force that is capable of responding to any disaster that may arise and eliminates communication lapses.
The original deadline was established by the FCC in 2004. While it may seem that states and localities have had plenty of time to comply with this deadline, it is important to note that it is not uncommon for development and improvement plans to be established up to 10 years in advance. This means that tentative budgets have already been established for major projects, and unless a radio system upgrade was included in those plans, many localities were left scrambling to come up with the funding for narrowbanding.
In the instance of smaller cities and counties, a radio system replacement or upgrade – which on average runs approximately $65/citizen – may be the largest project the locality has undertaken. While some grants offered through the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications and the Federal Emergency Management Agency provided language that allowed for funds to be used to narrowband, there was little by way of federal funding focused specifically for this purpose. Earlier this year, Rep. Rothman introduced H.R.2976 to provide funding to local governments striving to meet the deadline. This bill was also referred to the Committee on Energy and Commence and later to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, where it has remained without movement since September 26, 2011.
It is important for both vendors and state and local governments to be aware of any potential changes in this mandate, particularly if the government is not making progress. Many governments have not yet met the requirements, and it seems some are not even aware that any such requirements exist. Vendors should be aware of the limitations of many of the smaller governments and attempt to work with them to meet the deadline as best as possible.
Neither vendors nor governments should view this extension as a “sure thing;” both parties should work to meet the current narrowbanding requirements, especially considering how high the fines are for every day a community goes without meeting them. All parties involved should track this legislation closely to determine when and if it comes out of the committee and if a similarly worded bill is introduced in the Senate. It is also important for vendors to read up on various grant opportunities, continue to track H.R.2976, and offer information on these funding opportunities to interested state and local governments.