School bus operators, both public and private, that do not have meet FCC guidelines for 12.5 kHz radio spectrum licenses by next year could realize disastrous degradation to their communications, said a radio frequency expert.
Mark Crosby, president and CEO of the Enterprise Wireless Alliance, presented an STN webinar titled "The FCC's Narrowbanding Mandate: Why, When and How?" that explained sponsored by Motorola Solutions that explained what can happen to school district and private bus company radios that don't operate using at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology. Essentially, school bus operators must protect their investments in two-way radio technology or be faced with a loss of communications.
The FCC began the rulemaking in 1992 that effects all public safety and business industrial land mobile radio systems operating in the 150-512 MHz radio bands, or so called "workhorse bands." School bus operators and others must cease operating using current 25 kHz efficiency technology by Jan. 1, 2013.
"You've got to work out a plan to get this done in the next 11 months," Crosby said during the live webinar, which was sponsored by Motorola Solution.
Crosby added that the migration likely won't cause many problems for small fleets, but larger operations, for example those with a hundred or more school buses, could see considerable vehicle downtime as the old radios are removed and new compliant ones are installed. He also said this plan requires budget considerations.
The official penalties for noncompliance are fines of $16,000 per radio per day to a maximum of $122,500. But Crosby said actual monetary fines are unlikely unless school bus operators ignore FCC attempts to contact them. The greater risk for school districts and bus companies is to lose their standing on the radio spectrum title that they originally licensed. Other users could be granted access to the channels, resulting in interference and delays in communication. Additionally, third-party vendors would be prohibited by federal law from working on non-compliant radio equipment that still broadcasts at 25 kHz rather than 12.5 kHz.
Information on grants to make the switch to narrowbanding may be available for school districts through their radio vendors. Crosby also said the FCC asked for any waiver requests to be filed by the end of 2011 but added that users with extenuating circumstances will still be heard as long as the process is started sooner rather than later.
"If you have a legitimate need for a waiver, file it," he said. "It probably will be granted."