By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
Narrowbanding: It may not be a common term heard every day, but for public safety personnel using two-way radios, it’s been a part of their vocabulary since a Federal Communications Commission mandate in 2010.
The results of that mandate could mean more radio VHF and UHF frequencies available for use throughout the nation, including the counties of Knox, Laurel and Whitley.
The FCC mandate states all non-Federal public safety licensees using 25 kilohertz (kHz) radio systems convert to “narrowband” 12.5 kHz channels by Jan. 1.
This includes all fire departments, law enforcement agencies, rescue personnel, schools and other similar public safety groups.
Those who fail to fall in compliance face cancellation of their non-narrowband license. They also could face several thousand dollars in fines, as the fine is $1,000 per day, per frequency not in compliance. For example, if a county had 50 frequencies not in compliance, that county’s fines total $350,000 per week.
Stewart Walker, president of London Radio Service, Inc., has been overseeing many of the changeovers in Whitley, Laurel and Knox counties. London Radio Service, Inc. according to Walker, is a two-way radio communications business. “I’ve been in radio for 26-27 years,” he said. “In Whitley, Laurel and Knox counties, the focus (of this radio conversion) has been on local government.”
Walker said the conversion is nearly complete. “As far as I know we’re good to go Jan. 1 on (agencies) I’ve been involved with,” he said. “Anyone operating two-way radio equipment must be narrowbanded by January 1, 2013.”
He said only one group that he is aware of is waiting for approval for the changeover. The medical call-in channel, he said, filed their approval paperwork approximately 60 days ago, “but the closer it gets to the January deadline, the bigger the backlog will be.”
He does expect the medical call-in channel will be in compliance on time for the January deadline.
Whitley County Emergency Management Director Danny Moses said the county came into compliance by late in the summer. “We’re ready to go,” he said. “We’re finished, and we’re all compliant now.”
Walker says that 95-96 percent of the emergency agencies he handles are already compliant. “They are in compliance,” Walker said. “Or they’re on the edge of being compliant.
“At least, of the ones I take care of, that’s where we are.”
According to TheRadioReference.com website, a working group was established in Kentucky to oversee the conversion. The Public Safety Working Group, part of the Kentucky Wireless Interoperability Executive Committee, stated the bottom line has four points to make. Those are: If a digital radio system is purchased using state or federal funding, the radio must meet P-25 standards. Those standards mean a radio fresh out of the box would be able to provide the required kilohertz to operate compliantly.
The second point was these conversions do not apply to analog radio systems. The third states the conversions will not impact locally-funded projects.
Finally, improvements to existing digital radio systems would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.