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Deadline looms to switch radio frequencies
STATEWIDE — Fire and police radios have made the switch from broadband to narrow-band frequencies, but what about the town crews?
Whether a town has a police department, in addition to the fire department, most towns have public works, or highway, crews. A few have other departments as well, and the town manager, or at least some selectmen, traditionally have radios so they can keep track of what the crew is doing, or call up a deputy sheriff if there's no municipal police force. In most towns, there's usually a radio in each major piece of town equipment, plus one or two more for back-up or in other vehicles.
As it stands, changing these non-emergency radios to narrow-band leaves the towns with the cost. The cost is at least $25 per radio, estimates the director of the Oxford County Communications Center (OCRCC), Jim Miclon. Much of the equipment used by non-emergency town workers is old and reconfiguration is unlikely, said Miclon.
The deadline for applying to get a new frequency license on the old broadband is January 1, 2011, as Miclon interprets the FCC regulations.
However, according to Robert Kenny, director of FCC Media Relations, the deadline for having complete transition to narrow-band is January 1, 2013. There are two more years for the towns to sort out, not only their paperwork licensing arrangements, but also the sources of funds for new equipment or modifications to current gear.
"I don't have much sympathy for the towns that haven't been planning on this. It's only been on the books for about 13 years," Miclon said.
Miclon also pointed out that, a few years ago, a switch to digital television was talked about and heavily advertised for years, and yet people were still surprised when, one morning, their television wouldn't work properly.
Kenny said there will probably be equipment grants available in the coming years, usually administered on the county level, but originating from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, although he also pointed out that the shift of bands has been in the works for more than 10 years.
Some towns, such as Paris, Oxford and Norway have already transitioned all of the town's radios to narrow-band.
Yet the selectmen in some of the smaller towns have professed to be unaware of the situation.
Otisfield Selectman Lenny Adler told his colleagues at a recent meeting that he'd heard that the town might have to make changes similar to those already done for the Fire Department. His colleagues expressed some surprise, not that something was going to be done requiring a change, but that the time drew nigh.
Miclon said, in his interpretation of the law, the actual change or modification to the equipment wasn't necessary until January 1, 2013, The process, however, could take a year, with all the other towns and counties flooding the federal agency with complicated applications. Oxford County hired a law firm that specializes in FCC cases to represent it through the highly technical and complex application process, Miclon pointed out.
"It took three years and more than $4,000," Miclon said.
That is, however, the cost and time-frame for the entire county's emergency services radio narrow-band requirements. Miclon said that, in all the Oxford County towns he was familiar with, the same person who coordinated the change for emergency services was handling the town's other transitions, as well.
Kernny suggests that the websuite www. fcc.gov/narrowbanding includes a great deal of information of use to municipal officers trying to understand the intricacies of the process.