Simplified Process to Authorize Federal Interop Channels Announced
Monday, March 26, 2018 | Comments

The FCC announced a streamlined procedure to authorize non-federal public-safety entities to use the 40 channels that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) designated for interoperability. Under the new procedure, non-federal public-safety entities need obtain only written concurrence from their designated statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC) or a state-appointed official prior to filing an application with the commission to use the federal interoperability channels.

The new simplified procedure applies only to mobile or portable radio units — not to base stations — used by non-federal licensees on the federal interoperability channels. In a companion order, the commission updated its rules to conform to the new simplified procedure.

NTIA requires federal agencies that perform law enforcement, public-safety, emergency response or disaster response functions to program the federal interoperability channels into one or more zones/banks/channel groups of their mobile (including portable) radios. These and other requirements governing use of these channels are set forth in the NTIA “Manual of Regulations and Procedures for Federal Radio Frequency Management.”

A non-federal public-safety entity may communicate on the federal channels for joint federal/non-federal operations, provided it first obtains a license from the commission authorizing use of the channels. FCC regulations provide that non-federal use of the federal interoperability channels is limited to those circumstances in which federal and non-federal agencies have a need to interoperate; routine day-to-day communications and administrative uses are prohibited. Federal and non-federal agencies may, however, use the channels for testing, training and exercises involving interoperability.

Under the new process, the SWIC or state-appointed official in each state is responsible for coordinating access to the federal interoperability channels by non-federal public-safety entities. Each SWIC/official will sign an agreement with a federal user with a valid assignment. The NTIA manual does not dictate the terms of these agreements, but as a practical matter, all 40 of the channels may not be available for non-federal use in all areas of every state or territory — along the borders with Canada and Mexico, for example. Thus, an agreement may specify which channels are available for use in the particular state or territory and establish the conditions for their use by non-federal public-safety entities.

Once the federal-state agreement for a given state is signed, non-federal public safety entities in the state may file an application via the Universal Licensing System (ULS) to license the designated federal interoperability channels under the new streamlined process. Before filing, the applicant must provide its SWIC/official with a copy of its application. The SWIC/official will review the application and provide the applicant with its written concurrence if it finds the proposed operation conforms to the conditions specified in the agreement. The applicant must include a copy of the SWIC/official’s written concurrence with its ULS application.

A state agency can apply for a license that authorizes mobile and portable units to operate statewide on the designated federal interoperability channels. Upon grant of that application, the state agency may authorize local and tribal agencies to operate mobile and portable units on the designated channels under the state agency’s call sign.

If an agency wants to license the federal channels under its own call sign, FCC rules require that agency to apply for a separate license. Frequency coordination from an FCC-certified frequency coordinator is not required. Furthermore, non-federal applicants no longer need to obtain written certification from a federal agency, and the FCC will no longer refer applications for the federal interoperability channels to the Interdepartment Radio Advisor Committee’s (IRAC) frequency assignment subcommittee for coordination.

The full order is here.

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