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Tuesday, May 29, 2012 - 8:00am

Deadline Looms For Users Of Old Radios

A federal deadline is looming for two-way radio users to switch to newer equipment.

A 15-year-old regulatory change could mean a scramble for money at hundreds of proscrating public authorities and private companies.

The 1997 FCC decision mandates a narrower band for two-way radios by 2013.

Manufacturers stopped making non-compliant radios 15 years-ago.

But in smaller, mainly rural towns and counties, Frank Rotondo of Georgia's Police Chiefs Association says, officials might have lacked funds or spent them elsewhere.

"It's unfortunate that we still have some departments with dated equipment but a lot of those departments still have dated revolvers or pistols," Rotondo says. "It might be because of the inability for them to come up with the additional communication equipment money during that 14 or 15 year period of time or perhaps distribution of funds going into a different area of the city or county budget."

Georgia-based Delta is among companies asking for more time to comply with the rule.

And Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools spokesman Kurt Hetager says, the district is currently discussing how to pay for upgrades to school bus radios.

"The district is currently reviewing several options, so a hard cost is not available," Hetager says. "However, the preliminary cost estimates have ranged from $340,000 to $775,000."

Wireless industry consultant Mark Crosby of Enterprise Wireless estimates that about a third of those using the radios are non-compliant.

But he says, it's not as if they couldn't see it coming.

"This didn't sneak up on anybody," Crosby says. "They've had more than a decade to prepare. It's been in numerous public notices, webinars and newspaper articles."

A Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman says that public safety officials have held many workshops on the issue.

The state made a big push to upgrade users of older radios in the late 1990's and federal funds were available to help.

At this point, however, without an extention, the radios will be non-compliant at the end of the year.