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For Front Royal, FCC narrowband deadline looms

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- Localities face penalties if they don't comply with new federal radio guidelines after Dec. 31.

Front Royal may not upgrade radio equipment by the deadline set by the Federal Communications Commission. Town Council likely won't take action needed to buy the equipment until Jan. 10 unless members call an emergency meeting before the end of the year.

At a work session Monday, council raised additional questions about the effort to upgrade equipment used by Front Royal's energy and environmental services departments that could cost the town more than $30,000.

Front Royal already upgraded its radio transmitting equipment but needs to replace the radio receivers, according to Town Manager Steven Burke. The effort also does not involve the police department.

The town plans to buy 52 vehicle radios, 12 portables with external microphones and belt clips and seven for offices. The package includes the reprogramming of 17 existing radios and the addition of three VHF channels.

Bearcom's Chantilly location submitted the lowest bid of $31,990. Harrisonburg-based BR Communications bid $35,143.80. Teltonic, of Winchester, bid $39,094.82.

Vice Mayor N. Shae Parker questioned the price quotes given by the bidding firms for certain parts of the packages and said disparities exists among the bids. Parker pointed out that the cost for the FCC licensing fee for three new frequencies varied widely among the bidders -- $575, $1,050 and $1,908.30.

Parker also asked whether council could accept parts of the bids rather than one entire package, which could result in the town receiving a better deal for the money.

"With the disparities there's easily $8,000-$9,000 in savings if we split this up," Parker said.

Burke said he would investigate that option and looked into the FCC licensing fee disparity. But Burke advised council the deadline to make the conversion looms. Burke told council the FCC could fine the town though he did not know the penalties.

"What happens, though, on Jan. 1 or 2 when somebody picks up the radio 'cause we're not going to be able to act on this until Jan. 10?" asked Councilman Bret Hrbek. "Are we fined every day? Do we need to have an emergency council meeting?"

"Let me ask another dumb question: Why did we wait so late to put the bid out?" asked Councilman Eugene Tewalt.

Burke had no response to Tewalt's question.

"I think in the future we'd better look into that," Tewalt said. "If we're on a deadline we better start a little earlier."

Council asked Burke to bring the matter back to their next work session before the regular meeting.

The FCC requires that all entities with a radio license replace or reprogram their equipment to operate on a narrow bandwidth by Dec. 31. The town radio transmissions are now narrow-banded

All public safety and business industrial land mobile radio systems operating in the 150-512 megahertz bands must cease to operate using the 25 kilohertz technology by Jan. 1, according to the FCC. The systems must switch to at least a 12.5-kilohertz efficiency technology.

The FCC began the effort almost 20 years ago to ensure more efficient use of the radio spectrum and give greater access for public safety and non-public safety users.

Narrowbanding allows for the creation of additional channel capacity in the same radio spectrum and to support more users, according to the FCC.

License holders not operating at 12.5 kilohertz violates FCC rules and could face enforcement action to include admonishment, fines or loss of license, the agency warns.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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