FCC public notice lays out deadlines, waiver policies governing mandatory move to narrowbanding

The 2013 deadline is fast approaching by which all land mobile radio systems licensed in the 150-174 MHz and 421-512 MHz bands must stop using 25 kHz bandwidth (wideband) channels and migrate completely to channels that are only 12.5 kHz wide (narrowband).  The FCC has issued several warnings and has now issued a public notice describing in detail how compliance should be demonstrated and how and when waivers may be requested.

If you operate land mobile voice and data systems licensed under Part 74 (Broadcast Auxiliary), Part 95 (GMRS, FRS, CB), or Part 80 (Marine), the narrowbanding requirement does not apply, although you are subject to steps the FCC has taken with other services to improve efficiency of spectrum use. 

If you have a Part 90 license with an emission designator of 20K0F3E or 16K0F3E (for voice systems), you are using wideband channels and must convert or replace your equipment by the end of 2012.  If your emission designator is 11K0F3E (or up to 11K3F3E), you are already using narrowband channels.  If the first number in your designator is a “6”, and the second character is a “k”, you are using even narrower 6.25 kHz channels, and you are in compliance with the new requirements.

The FCC stopped issuing equipment authorizations for new wideband transmitters on January 1, 2011, but existing models may continue to be imported until January 1, 2013.  Existing wideband licenses may be modified without deleting wideband emission designators, but only if the geographic operating area is not expanded.  However, by January 1, 2013, all licenses must be modified to delete any wideband emission designator, and all operations must be confined to narrowband emissions. 

Given the time needed for application processing, we recommend that modification applications be filed no later than the summer of 2012 at the latest, and at least three or four months before any earlier date by which you plan to complete your migration to narrowband.

While Part 90 land mobile applications normally must be filed through an approved frequency coordinator, modifications that do nothing but change the emission designator need not be filed through a coordinator and will be exempt from FCC filing fees.  If any other changes are desired, including correction of errors, a frequency coordinator must be used and a filing fee paid.  Government entities are exempt from filing fees regardless of the nature of their applications.

Licensees already using only narrowband equipment who do not have a wideband designator on their license do not have to communicate with the FCC by January 1, 2013, but they will have to certify in any future modification or renewal application that they are operating only narrowband.  The FCC will ask for the FCC ID on transmitters, so that it can verify that the equipment is certified for narrowband operation.

Licensees who wish to request a waiver of the 2013 conversion deadline should file their requests during calendar 2011.  We don’t know yet how lenient the FCC will be with waivers, but they have made it clear that they expect those seeking waivers to have in place a plan and timetable for coming into compliance.