FCC Denies Permanent VHF/UHF Narrowbanding Waiver Request (7/28/14)
Monday, July 28, 2014 | Comments

The FCC denied a request for a permanent waiver of the commission’s VHF/UHF narrowbanding rule filed by Del Norte County, California.

The narrowbanding rule requires private land mobile radio licensees operating in the 150 – 174 MHz and 450 – 512 MHz bands to operate using channel bandwidth of no more than 12.5 kilohertz or equivalent efficiency after Jan. 1, 2013.

Del Norte County is located in northern California at the Oregon border along the Pacific coast. The county has a land area of about 1,007 square miles with a population of about 30,000 people.

In 2012, Del Norte converted its VHF system to narrowband operation, and it is in compliance with the rule. However, Del Norte said that as a result of narrowbanding its system, it has experienced a 40 percent loss of coverage in its operational area. The county said it has worked with its vendor and FCC staff to ensure that its existing equipment is operating at optimum efficiency, but that these improvements have not restored the system’s coverage that existed prior to narrowbanding.

Del Norte said that the lack of coverage caused by narrowband operation in compliance with the rules places its first responders at risk. The county said that the only way for it to restore system coverage while continuing to comply with the narrowbanding rule would be to construct between three to five additional towers to augment its existing two-tower system. Del Norte said that it lacks the funding to undertake such an endeavor. Del Norte also claimed that it didn’t need to convert from wideband to narrowband operations because there is no spectrum congestion in the county.

The commission said that Del Norte didn’t present sufficient facts to support its request for a permanent waiver. “We recognize the financial constraints Del Norte faces to construct additional towers, but this circumstance is not unusual or unique among licensees that have been subject to the narrowbanding requirement,” the FCC said. “While Del Norte’s financial constraints could weigh in favor of a temporary waiver to afford the county additional time to upgrade its system, they do not justify a permanent waiver.”

The FCC also said a permanent waiver is not justified because the county is not in a spectrally congested area. “This argument presupposes that the lack of spectral congestion is a permanent condition and that other parties will never seek access to spectrum there,” the order said. “We are not prepared to make this assumption, which would undermine the underlying purpose of the narrowbanding rules to ensure that additional spectrum is available for future use — including for use that may not be anticipated.”

The commission continued: “Even if we were to allow Del Norte to operate in wideband mode indefinitely, these restrictions would prevent the county from being able to properly maintain or replace its equipment, and as a result its system would become increasingly less reliable as well as progressively more obsolete.”

The full order is here.

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