FCC Warns Licensees About Use of Interoperability Channels

The Policy and Licensing Division of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau advised licensees today that non-interoperability use of interoperability channels is permitted at most only on a secondary basis.

The division issued a letter providing guidance to Wynn Brannin, the statewide emergency coordinator and statewide interoperability coordinator for New Mexico, in response to his request. It also sent a letter to Franklin Square & Munson Fire District in New York saying that the agency has learned that the district is using the 453.4625 megahertz frequency “for internal, routine, day-to-day operations” in violation of FCC rules. The district “must discontinue operation of this frequency if the channel is needed for interoperability,” it said.

In the letter to Mr. Brannin, the division confirmed “that the interoperability and mutual aid channels are primarily for interoperable emergency communications between different public safety licensees. Day-to-day communications are permitted only on a secondary basis on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels and are prohibited on the 800 MHz interoperability channels.

In your letter, you state that certain licensees in Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas are using the interoperability channels in the ‘VHF, UHF and 800 MHz bands’ for ‘internal, day-to-day’ communications.’ For instance, you indicate that one licensee in your FEMA region is using a VHF interoperability channel ‘as the primary repeater output for [its] fire department’ and another licensee is using an interoperability channel ‘as the primary repeater output for [its] emergency medical services.’ You indicate that such operations make the interoperability channels ‘unusable for interoperability purposes during emergency and disaster situations’ within a large geographic area of your region.”

The division continued that the “Commission’s rules state that non-interoperability communications on the interoperability channels in the VHF and UHF bands are secondary. Specifically, Section 90.20(d)(80) states that after December 7, 2000 the interoperability channels in the VHF and UHF bands are ‘primarily … for public safety interoperability only communications.’ Section 90.20(d)(80) also states that after January 1, 2015, all non-interoperability communications on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels will be ‘secondary … to co-channel interoperability operations.’ Communications authorized on a secondary basis are, by definition, not to cause interference to communications authorized on a primary basis. Thus, any internal ‘day-to-day’ communication on the VHF and UHF interoperability channels which prevents these channels from being used for their intended purpose (i.e. interoperability communications) would exceed the secondary status designation of such communications and be a violation of our rules.”

The division continued, “Furthermore, when it designated mutual aid channels in the 800 MHz band, the Commission stated that these channels are reserved ‘for the express purpose of intercommunication in non-routine, critical situations’ and are intended to ‘provide public safety agencies with the means to coordinate their responses more effectively.’ The Commission emphasized that these channels ‘are not intended for routine, administrative, intra-agency communications but are to be reserved for  coordination of multiple public safety entities.’ Therefore, any internal day-to-day communications on the 800 MHz mutual aid channels would be a violation of our rules.”

“If you believe a licensee in your region is violating Commission rules by inappropriately using the interoperability or mutual aid channels or operating with excessive power on these channels, you should report the matter to our Enforcement Bureau (1-888-225-5322),” the division added. “In the event of a rule violation, the Commission may impose restrictions on a licensee’s use of a channel. It may, among other things, reduce excessive operating power on a channel or remove a channel from a licensee’s authorization if the Commission finds such a license modification is in the public interest.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily