Rebanding concerns dominate FCC spectrum policy update at APCO 2013

FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau honcho David Furth led a discussion that ranged from narrowbanding to the new rules governing 700 MHz

On the first full day of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International annual conference last week, a large crowd of public safety communicators gathered to hear the Federal Communications Commission update APCO on recent FCC actions as well as issues still before the commission.

David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, led a discussion that seemed to have a general theme of “there’s a lot of work to do.”

Although it seemed at times that there were more questions raised than answers given, topics ranged from spectrum issues to the persistent debate on text to 911. For Furth’s update on 911 call center services, click. Here we’ll look at LMR spectrum. 

One of the areas the FCC is working on is their narrowbanding mandate. As of January 1, 2013, all existing licensees that operate on a bandwidth of 25 kHz (wideband) or more were required to implement equipment designed to operate on bandwidths of 12.5 kHz (narrowband) or less. 

This was not a suggestion from the FCC -- it was a mandate. Furth said 85 percent of public safety licensees have complied with narrowbanding. Others are operating under FCC waivers. 

Regardless, there are still some hold-outs, and Furth assured the group the FCC is not taking this matter lightly. 

“It’s important to deal with them because narrowbanding is good for public safety,” Furth argued. He reiterated that enforcement action will be taken if compliance to the mandate is not attained. 

Rules on 700 MHz
Another topic in the spectrum policy realm was the overhaul and update of the rules governing 700 MHz. Reply comments just closed, and the FCC is considering all the information received. 

One consideration is whether the December 31, 2016, deadline for all licensees in the 700 MHz public safety narrowband spectrum to operate using a channel bandwidth of no more than 6.25 kilohertz or equivalent efficiency should be extended -- or even eliminated. 

A second concern requests a look at the long-term relationship between narrowband and broadband. 

A final consideration facing the FCC is in regards to the reserve channels. Petitions have already been filed by various parties asking for permission to use these channels. The questions facing the FCC are, should the reserve channels be used, and for what?  

State of 800 MHz
Finally, Furth discussed the current state of 800 MHz rebanding. Rebanding requires some licensees to retune or replace their equipment in order to operate on alternative 800 MHz frequencies. 

Furth announced that 90 percent of licensees in non-border regions are on a new spectrum. About 55 percent of those in the northern border region have rebanded in part due to collaboration with Canadian officials and a 1951 treaty. 

To the south, rebanding has proven to be a bit more complicated. Working with Mexico, efforts stalled until recently, when an agreement was finally reached to implement a 30-month timetable for getting all of the southern border regions on the new spectrum. On August 23, 2013, the clock will start. 

Even with the frustrations from the south, Furth is confident that 99 percent of the required licensees will have accomplished rebanding by 2014. 

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