Hospitals communicate with police, fire and rescue personnel daily using emergency response radio systems. Traditionally, these systems operated on 25 kilohertz (kHz) channels. Over the years, however, this “wideband” approach led to an inefficient use of bandwidth and insufficient channels to meet the demand for radio communication.

In December 2004, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a new policy requiring all FCC licensees to begin operating on “narrowband” channels. For hospitals across the country this meant transitioning their operation of emergency response radio systems away from the traditional 25 kHz “wideband” channels to the 12.5 kHz or “narrower” channels. The final deadline to comply with the FCC’s narrowband policy was January 1, 2013.

As we approach the second anniversary of the FCC’s narrowband deadline, many hospitals are in compliance and operating on narrow channels. However, we have encountered a small subset of hospitals that have not yet completed the transition to narrowband communications. The transition process requires a coordinated effort by hospital personnel to obtain funding to update existing equipment or buy new equipment capable of sending and receiving narrowband transmissions. It also requires modifying the existing FCC licenses of the hospital to reflect the transition to narrowband channels. In many cases, the process is complicated by the fact that radio systems are used across multiple jurisdictions and a successful transition to operating on narrowband channels cannot occur unless all jurisdictions cooperate and act simultaneously. Despite these obstacles, non-compliant hospitals can no longer delay; they must narrowband today.

The FCC warned in March 2013 it would seek “enforcement actions, including admonishments, license revocation, and/or monetary forfeitures of up to $16,000 for each violation or each day of continuing violation, and up to $112,500 for any single act or failure to act.”1 In calculating the penalties, the FCC will consider the “nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the violation and, with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, ability to pay, and such other matters as justice may require.”2 Furthermore, continued failure to comply with the narrowband policy will result in hospitals losing their ability to communicate with emergency responders.

If your hospital needs immediate help meeting the FCC regulations for narrowband transmissions, including modifying an existing FCC license to reflect the hospital’s narrowband capabilities, please contact Gregg Skall.

Womble Carlyle client alerts are intended to provide general information about significant legal developments and should not be construed as legal advice regarding any specific facts and circumstances, nor should they be construed as advertisements for legal services.

IRS Circular 230 Notice: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any US tax advice contained in this communication (or in any attachment) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed in this communication (or in any attachment).

1FCC Public Notice DA 13-376, released March 14, 2013.

2Id. at 6, n.15.