• FCC Provides Narrowbanding Guidance
  • July 20, 2011 | Authors: Gregory E. Kunkle; Wesley K. Wright
  • Law Firm: Keller and Heckman LLP - Washington Office
  • On July 13, 2011, the FCC released a Public Notice reminding private land mobile licensees of the upcoming deadline for transitioning to narrowband operations.

    By January 1, 2013, all private land mobile licensees in the VHF (150-174 MHz) and UHF (450-512 MHz) bands must operate on 12.5 kHz or narrower channels or employ a technology that achieves a transmission rate of at least 4800 bits per second per 6.25 kHz for data systems operating with bandwidths greater than 12.5 kHz. This latter standard is known as the "data efficiency standard."

    Since January 1, 2011, the Commission has no longer accepted VHF/UHF applications for new wideband operations or to modify existing wideband stations that expand the authorized interference contour.

    The Public Notice, reminds licensees of the upcoming deadline, answers several important questions regarding the narrowbanding mandate and sets forth criteria for requesting extensions of the deadline.

    Our summary of several frequently asked questions and responses from the Public Notice follows.

    Do narrowbanding modification applications require frequency coordination or payment of FCC filing fees?

    No. As highlighted in our Alert last week, the FCC has waived the fees for modification applications that only add a narrowband emission designator to existing channels. The fee waiver does not apply if additional changes to the radio license are proposed. A modification application will require frequency coordination and FCC filing fees if it seeks to change the type of emission (e.g. switch from analog to digital operations) or operate on a different center channel.

    Must a Licensee certify it meets the data efficiency standard outlined above?

    Not at the present time. The Commission may require licensees to certify that they meet the data efficiency standard after January 1, 2013.

    May a licensee correct coordinates or other technical parameters on an existing wideband license even if the correction results in an apparent expansion of the interference contour?

    Yes. This scenario is common among critical infrastructure entities that have licenses without a defined area of operation. The licensee will be required to submit a statement along with the modification application explaining that data on the license is being corrected to reflect the station's actual parameters and does not expand the interference contour.

    Does the data efficiency apply to systems operating on narrowband (12.5 kHz-wide) channels?

    No. The data efficiency standard applies only to operations on channels with a bandwidth in excess of 12.5 kHz. There is no minimum data rate systems operating on narrowband channels must meet.

    Waiver Criteria for Extending the Narrowbanding Deadline

    VHF and UHF land mobile licensees that anticipate the need for additional time to complete narrowbanding their systems must request a rule waiver from the FCC as soon as possible, preferably by December 31, 2011. The Commission stressed that waiver requests must meet the factors set forth in Section 1.925 of the Commission's rules and will be subjected to a high level of scrutiny. The waiver request should address the following factors:

    • Steps taken to plan for, initiate and complete the transition to narrowband operations;

    • System size;

    • Whether system equipment is narrowband-capable or must be replaced or upgraded;

    • Whether the licensee plans additional system upgrades in addition to converting to narrowband operations;

    • Funding sources, including whether the budget requires governmental approval or is a multi-year process;

    • Whether the narrowbanding schedule is affected by neighboring systems because of interoperability;

    • Plans to minimize the negative impact of extended wideband operations on co-channel and adjacent channel licensees, including a description of the spectrum environment in the affected area;

    • If the licensee plans to migrate to non-VHF/UHF spectrum (e.g. 800 MHz), whether it will relinquish VHF/UHF spectrum and the amount of spectrum that will be relinquished once it has completed the migration.

    • A proposed timetable for completion of narrowbanding, including what steps will be taken prior to January 1, 2013 and anticipated dates for replacement/retuning of mobile units and infrastructure replacement/retuning.