2013 is finally here and hopefully one of your New Year’s resolutions wasn’t to ask for a narrowbanding waiver. While the ball dropped and the world celebrated, the FCC narrowbanding deadline quietly passed.
A term many have become familiar with is the impending ‘spectrum crunch.’ That spectrum, like other resources, will quickly be used up and made more and more difficult to acquire. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to develop different plans to help achieve greater spectrum efficiency and private land mobile radio (LMR) bands are no exception. LMR systems were originally designed to operate on 25-kilohertz (kHz)‑wide voice channels. To help alleviate the demand for spectrum and capacity, the FCC made a decision in 2003 to require all LMR systems to migrate to 12.5 kHz channels to increase spectrum efficiency.
The FCC did anticipate potential migration issues and allowed licensees to apply for deadline extensions via a public notice released on July 13, 2011.  The FCC used an online electronic filing system to collect all comments.  Those seeking waivers were required to explain to the FCC steps they had taken to narrowband, reasons they have not been able to meet the deadline, and how long of an extension they required.
A total of 94 waiver requests were filed. Of those filed 47 were on behalf of a County or County agency; 16 from a City or City agency; 11 from States or State agency; 7 from utilities companies; and 13 from other organizations.
How much time was requested?
Of those 94 requests 23 requests were for 6 months or less. 54 asked for between 7-12 months, 14 asked for between 13-24 months and 3 needed 2 years or longer to narrowband.
Why Did They Need More Time?
Every entity that sought an extension had their own unique reasons for needing additional time, however there were some common themes that persisted amongst many.
- Many entities decided to transition to 700/800 MHz systems rather than narrowband existing radios. Finding money in local budgets was a major issue for many. Funds that had been promised suddenly became unavailable or were never made available to begin with. Competing fiduciary responsibilities, eroding tax bases, and the inability to take on debt have forced many governments to make difficult decisions regarding which priorities can move forward.
- Shortage of Resources
- Many waivers cited contracting issues as cause for delay. It became apparent that with so many different groups racing to meet the deadline many contractors became thinly stretched and unable to meet deadlines promised.
- Unforeseen Circumstances
- Many cited unforeseen circumstances such as dangerous weather conditions, governance issues, and lack of other resources for cause of delay.
So Now What?
To date, only 18 waiver requests rulings have been made, with 17 being approved. The lone denial so far is South Lake Tahoe, CA. The FCC determined that South Lake Tahoe’s financial burdens and overall circumstances were not unique or unusual. Moreover, the FCC concluded that the city showed no efforts prior to 2010 to accumulate funds for narrowbanding and gave no explanation in asking for an extension to July 2014. Currently, all other requests are pending.
There appears to be no order or method in which the FCC is reviewing requests. Only 20% of requests have been ruled upon but 94% of those that have been ruled upon have been approved. Those who have submitted waivers will hope this trend continues, while left wondering when the FCC will review their requests. It also remains to be seen what the FCC will do to those who did not narrowband or seek a waiver. The FCC has said it will enforce penalties on violators, given that licensees have had nearly 10 years to prepare for the narrowbanding deadline and have been offered an opportunity to request deadline extensions. Some estimates currently state that there around 20,000 public-safety licenses that have not filed updated narrowbanding applications. It appears there is no real strategy left for those except to hurry up and complete the application.
 FCC, VHF/UHF Narrowbanding Information, http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/public-safety-spectrum/narrowbanding.html
 FCC, Public Notice, http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-11-1189A1.pdf
 FCC, Enforcement Bureau Reminds Private Land Mobile Licensees and Equipment Manufacturers of the January 1, 2013 Deadline for Transitioning to Narrowband Technology http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2012/db0822/DA-12-1386A1.pdf