FCC licensing is a complex subject that is ever changing in both the regulatory framework and the license landscape which creates challenges on a daily basis. MRA is one of the true experts in FCC licensing, having given talks at trade shows on the subject and being recognized in numerous FCC regulatory proceedings and decisions.
FCC licensing is necessary any time a radio system is operated that is not in a license free band. There are many radio services that are license free which include:
- CB – Citizens Band
- ISM 6.765MHz – 6.795MHz ISM=Industrial, Scientific, Medical
- ISM 13.553MHz – 13.567MHz
- ISM 26.957MHz – 27.283MHz
- Cordless Telephones
- GMRS – General Mobile Radio Service (can also be licensed) 462.5500-462.7250MHz and 467.5500-467.7250MHz
- FRS 462.5625-462.7125MHz and 467.5625-467.7125MHz
- MURS – There are 3 narrowband (11.25KHz wide) frequencies of 151.820MHz, 151.880MHz and 151.940MHz. There are 2 wideband (20KHz wide) frequencies of 154.570MHz and 154.600MHz.
- LPRS – Low Power Radio Service 216-217MHz used for one-way communications such as language translation, medical assistance for ill patients, etc.
- Wifi 2.4GHz
- Wifi / Microwave5.1GHz
- Wifi / Microwave 5.8GHz
- 65 GHz
- ISM 902-928MHz
- PCS Unlicensed 1910-1930GHz
- ISM 24GHz – 24,250GHz
- ISM 61GHz – 61.500GHz
- ISM 122GHz – 123GHz
Land Mobile Radio (LMR) which is the service that provides communications for business and government to communicate to personnel in the field is a licensed radio service. Since having the proper FCC license is the life blood of your radio system, knowledge of the regulations that govern the use of the airwaves is essential to license, operate and maintain radio systems. Knowledge on how to obtain, modify, renew, purchase, pay fees, register, assign, lease or engineer based upon the rules in effect at the time of the action that needs to be taken will allow one to obtain maximum benefit from the use of the radio system while avoiding penalties for improper or illegal operation of the system.
Few radio users have any knowledge or sufficient knowledge of FCC licensing, so having someone who handles your licensing issues on your behalf is essential. MRA is one of the leading experts in FCC licensing, having blazed the trail for many others who have followed our footsteps and found success with the ideas that they got from MRA. We are here for you to help you get the most out of what you have, to obtain authorization for what you need, to help you keep what you have, to advise you on what direction you need to aim and to help you get there.
MRA has the resources to get the job done. In order to get the best that you can get, you need someone who is knowledgeable and has the resources to accomplish the task. MRA brings the following expertise to the table:
- 45 years of innovative knowledge of FCC licensing. When looking at companies who claim to be experts, one should look at their record of success to determine if their claims are valid. MRA operates in So California which is the #1 or #2 radio market in the country, depending upon who you ask. MRA’s success in the most difficult licensing environment means that we have the expertise. The fact that we hold over 250 licenses with the largest number of exclusive channels in So California means that MRA has done what no one else has been able to achieve.
- MRA has produced an article on the issue of the value of radio spectrum, how to get it and the reasons that you need it. Please see our article “Spectrum Issues for High Technology Radio Systems.”
- MRA has been on the board of directors of EWA, one of the national frequency coordinating committees for over 20 years and keeps up to date on the latest issues, problems and opportunities at the FCC.
- Frequency coordination is required by the FCC before you submit an application for a license. MRA is affiliated with 3 different frequency coordination committees that have different strengths and weaknesses. This gives us the opportunity to use the best coordinator to achieve your goals.
- MRA retains one of the most prestigious law firms in Washington DC to represent our interests. When dealing with difficult issues, having the best representation is essential to achieving the objective.
- MRA subscribes to services that keep us informed on what is happening with the radio industry from trade journals to license activity reports and current copies of the FCC rules and regulations.
MRA has the resources to maximize the chance of successfully obtaining the license that you need.
In most areas of the country, the FCC allocates the same frequencies across the country. These frequencies include VHF Low Band (30-50MHz), VHF High Band (150-174MHz), UHF (450-470MHz), 800MHz (806-824MHz and 851-869MHz) and 900MHz (896-901MHz and 935-940MHz). These frequencies are available in almost all locations around the country, but may have some limitations in certain areas such as the Mexican Border Zone, The Canadian Border Zone or quiet areas near sensitive governmental installations such as the laboratory in Boulder, Co.
The license process varies by frequency band as the FCC rules are different for each band. Requirements are different for obtaining channel exclusivity as well as loading requirement, interference criteria which means that the distance to the nearest co-channel stations will be different, adjacent channel requirements can be different, etc.
The choice of which band to use for a radio system is a complex issue with many things that need to be taken into consideration. Coverage is the first issue, because lower frequency bands propagate better in hilly terrain. However, the VHF Low Band frequencies are subject to skip interference at certain times of the year and the 22 year sun spot cycle. VHF High Band has issues with adjacent channel issues because of how the FCC allocated the channel assignments. Adjacent channels overlap each other, so it is not just what is on the frequency you are operating your radios, it also can be a problem with the operations on the frequencies that are immediately above and below your channel. The UHF band is the most crowded frequency band, but is a good compromise between radio propagation and interference. The 800MHz and 900MHz bands both have severe difficulty being licensed in any developed area due to the licenses being exclusive and having been issued years ago. Therefore, it is difficult in most circumstances to get a new license in these two bands, but not necessarily impossible.
In 11 major metropolitan areas around the country, the FCC allocated frequencies in the 470-512MHz range which are channels 14-20 on your TV set. Cities that have channels allocated in UHF-T Band include:
|No.||City||TV Channels Used|
|1||New York, NY||14, 15, 16|
|2||Los Angeles, CA||14,15,16,20|
|3||San Francisco, CA||16.17|
|7||Philadelphia, PA||19, 20|
|8||Washington, DC||17, 18|
|9||Boston, MA||14, 16|
|10||Chicago, Il||14, 15|
|11||Pittsburgh, PA||14, 18|
The frequencies that are associated with each TV channel are:
|No.||TV Channel||Frequency Range|
The above frequencies are limited to being used within 50 miles (with a few exceptions) of the center coordinates of the city listed. The exact coordinates of the city center are listed in the FCC rules.
Filing for a FCC license is a 3 stage process. Step 1 is to fill out the form for the type of radio system that is desired. Step 2 is to submit the application for frequency coordination. Step 3 is to submit the completed application to the FCC for license grant. Even though the steps may sound simple, there can be a lot of work and research for step 1 and step 2. Once the application is submitted to the FCC for step 3, there can be a lot of work if the FCC returns the application for corrections. Some corrections can be handled in a few minutes while other corrections can involve days of work to resolve complex problems.
Even though step 1 and step 2 are listed as separate steps, but they can be one and the same step, depending upon how the license application is handled. Some applications are completely prepared by the license preparer including the selection of the frequency and all system parameters determined, so the frequency coordinator has to “rubber stamp” the application. Other applications are mostly filled out by the license preparer, but the frequency coordinator selects the actual frequency to be used. Still, other applications are completely filed out by the frequency coordinator and all engineering work is performed by them. License applications can go from one extreme to the other and anywhere in-between, so it depends upon many circumstances as to which way a particular license application is handled.
The frequency coordinator is a private entity that has to be paid for their work, just as the person who fills out the license application form and submits the license application to the coordinator for the processing done by the coordinator. The FCC charges a license application fee which they keep for themselves and do not share with anyone else. Therefore, each license application typically incurs 3 separate fees which include:
- License preparation fee
- Frequency coordination fee
- FCC License application fee
- Engineering fees
Some applications need extensive engineering which there also is a charge for that engineering if needed making a 4th fee under the circumstances that require the additional engineering.
Many people question the role of the frequency coordinator in the FCC licensing process. I like to use the analogy of applying for a permit to build a building. The FCC is like the building department which analyzes what you plan to build and issues a permit for building the building. They have the final say on the grant of any license. However, before you build a building, you have to have an architect design the building and submit the engineering calculations to confirm that the building is sturdy and will not fall down and injure anyone in the structure or any structures that are adjacent to the building being built. The frequency coordinator has to make certain that the proposed radio system will operate according to the FCC rules, that the frequency, power, antenna height and radio coverage will not interfere with other radio systems on the same or nearby frequencies and will not unfairly impede the use of these other radio systems from the proposed new or modified radio system. Click here to see more about the history of frequency coordination.
NEW LICENSE APPLICATIONS
A new license application can be a simple process if you know what to do or it can be very difficult and cumbersome process when you do not know what to do. The license process consists of the following:
- Identify what kind of license you need.
- Fill out the new license application FCC form 601 with the proper technical data.
- Submit the application to frequency coordination.
- Pay the frequency coordination fee.
- Submit the application to the FCC.
- Pay the FCC license application fee.
- Monitor the progress of the application.
- Handle application returns from the FCC.
- Resubmit FCC application after addressing FCC concerns.
- Obtain license grant (or denial) from FCC.
Each of the above steps can involve a considerable amount of time if anything goes wrong during the process. Therefore, what may seem simple can turn into a major problem which needs a creative solution to complete the task. When you look at the sample license application FCC form 601, there are about 10 pages of complicated information that needs to be on the form. Most people do not understand what is required to be on the form or the meaning of the entries on the form, so it cannot be completed with the proper knowledge. MRA has done thousands of these forms for our company and others. We know what to put on the form, where to put it and what to do to get the desired result. Please see our sample of a new license application FCC form 601.
The FCC breaks down the needs of different types of radio users by assigning channels for the specific use of these users in the lower frequency bands below 470MHz. This includes categories such as:
- Business Radio (including schools & education)
- Local Government
- All Public Safety
- Emergency Medical
- Radio & TV Broadcast
- Power Utilities
- Water Utilities
- Special Emergency
- Trucking and Delivery Services
- Automotive Emergency
- Old Mobile Telephone (which was sold at FCC auction & used by MRA and others for two-way radio)
- Aircraft to ground telephone
- Airline ground operations
- Low Power Use (short range communications around a job site)
- Medium Power Use (medium range campus type systems)
Above 470MHz, the FCC used to break down the channels to a lesser amount than below 470MHz into categories such as Business Radio & Industrial Radio (including all other services except general business), but has retreated to two general categories of channels which include commercial channels (for radio system entrepreneurs such as MRA) and the other category for business, industrial, public safety and all other users. Depending upon which band of frequencies you need, the categories are different, the requirements are different, the interference criteria are different, loading requirements are different, radio propagation characteristics are different, etc. Therefore, selection of the correct frequency for use is not a simple matter for the inexperienced person.
Often, when new licenses are obtained for a radio user, the license will fall short of the customer needs and expectations. Companies that need features such as talkaround (simplex on the output frequency of the repeater), additional simplex channels, changing from simplex to repeaters, control stations licensed, additional repeater locations, FB8s for interference free operations, temporary locations or itinerant operation often find that their license does not contain the prerequisite features for them to operate legally. Having MRA prepare your license application will prevent these omissions from happening.
Radio operations are not a stagnant operation over time. Company needs change and when they do, a license modification is often required. MRA can prepare and submit your license modifications to obtain the changes that are needed. Changes such as:
- Additional frequencies
- Additional emissions
- Increased power at the repeater, base station or mobile radios
- Increase the number of units
- Itinerant operation
- Temporary locations for repeaters
- Temporary locations for control stations
- Moving control stations
- Moving repeater locations
- Canadian or Mexican approval if within the boarder zones.
All of the above items need to be authorized as well as other items not listed. Click here see a sample license application for modification of a FCC license.
Some licensing activity requires clearance from the FAA as well as the FCC. Any time there is an attempt to license a radio system with an antenna height of greater than 200’ or there is proximity to an airport where you exceed the 1:100 glide slope from the nearest point of the nearest runway, the FAA must get involved by submitting the proper forms to get their approval. This can complicate the process which MRA can handle.
Under the FCC rules of construction, the licensee technically has one year after they stop using the license before it “cancels” automatically for lack of construction and use, but the FCC has no way of knowing that you stopped using the license unless someone complains. Therefore, even though the rules state that the license automatically cancels, it does not get deleted from the FCC database if you report it to be constructed, which we do not recommend unless it is actually constructed. Filing anything with the FCC that is not true is NEVER a good idea. See Schedule K notifications below.
SCHEDULE K NOTIFICATIONS
Any time a license is authorized, whether it is a new license or a modification, a Schedule K filing is required to be filed within 30 days after the one year construction period for the license to be placed into use. The Schedule K is a notification to the FCC that the original grant or the license modifications have been implemented. These items will automatically expire and will be deleted by the FCC computer database if the FCC has not notified that they have been constructed. Therefore, the timely filing of the Schedule K is essential. MRA tracks the progress of the license grant and keeps you informed as to your requirements to obtain and maintain the license. Click here to see a sample of a Schedule K.
MRA will for our customers track FCC renewal obligations so that when it is time to renew the license, MRA can let you know that it is required and submit the renewal application. The FCC will mail a renewal reminder to the address of record. However, many companies move during the 10 year license term which often makes the renewal notice become undeliverable. Other times, the person at the company who receives the notice does not understand the renewal requirements and ignore the notice. Many times the person designated as the contact person has changed since the license was authorized, so the information is outdated. This causes confusion and disdain with the license renewal process. Some licenses contain “grandfathered” rights which can never be reinstated, so it is imperative that these licenses be renewed in a timely fashion. Click here to see a sample of a license renewal.
Purchases and mergers are common in the corporate world. However, most people do not think about the requirement to obtain FCC approval before this occurs. Many corporate purchases need approval from the commerce department or other governmental agencies, but do not think about the requirements of the FCC to obtain prior approval before attempting to transfer an FCC license. The FCC has strict regulations regarding the transfer of licenses and what must be done prior to the sale of the company assets if they contain an FCC authorization. MRA can prepare and submit the proper paperwork to transfer your license as required for your transaction. Click here to view a sample Assignment of Authorization.
It is an unfortunate situation when a company inadvertently lets their license expire. MRA has the knowledge and experience to handle your reinstatement request which must be submitted with 30 days of the license expiration. If the 30 day reinstatement period is exceeded, license reinstatement is very difficult and sometimes impossible. Click here to view a sample of a license reinstatement.
The FCC requires that a licensee turn in their license when they stop using the license. The licensee technically has one year after they stop using the license before it “cancels” automatically for lack of construction and use, but the FCC has no way of knowing that you stopped using the license. Therefore, it takes someone to notify the FCC for them to find out which would only occur if someone has a reason such as their desire to obtain an exclusive license that your company holds or if they have some grudge against your company. In most cases, the license is not exclusive and turning in the license that has little value is the proper step to make happen in a timely fashion. MRA can file the notice of cancellation for you.
SPECIAL TEMPORARY AUTHORITY (STA)
On occasion, customers need authorization from the FCC faster than it can be obtained via the normal license process. This is due to situations such as special events that require radio communications where an existing license is not sufficient for the radio use at the event. There are other circumstances such as someone who lets their license expire and there is concern that the FCC will catch the user operating the radio without being licensed. This is especially difficult where there is exclusivity of the frequency involved and the rules regarding reassignment of the frequency when it becomes available which make it difficult for the licensee to get the license reissued. In such cases, an STA may be appropriate to get temporary authority to continue operations without the jeopardy of receiving a citation from the FCC.
FCC NOTICE OF VIOLATION (NOV)
If you are ever unfortunate enough to receive an FCC NOV, you have typically 20 days to respond to the notice. Failure to respond to the notice is grounds for revocation of the license and monetary fines. When a NOV is received, it is best to get legal counsel to respond to the notice. There are always questions to which need a response. The attorney can put the response in the best light and make the legal arguments as to why the violation should be excused, however, the attorney cannot respond without knowing the facts of the situation. The worst thing that you can do is to lie in a response to the FCC. They consider lack of candor to be a fatal mistake that is generally worse than the original offense for which there is rarely a method to recover. We highly recommend that you never engage in such conduct with the FCC. Click here to see an example of a NOV.
FCC NOTICE OF APPARENT LIABILITY (NAL)
The FCC NAL is the 2nd stage of the NOV. This means that they did not accept your explanation in the NOV response and feel that you should receive a fine. There is another opportunity to argue with them that their proposed fine is not appropriate for the circumstances which include the ability to pay the fine. Maximum fines are rarely imposed, but they can be daunting if you have done something that warrants imposition of a fine. Sometimes, the FCC will decide that they need to make an example of someone who has received an NOV, so if you are one of those unfortunate individuals, there is still a possibility of getting the fine reduced. Within recent history, the FCC fined a large well known company almost $500,000 for operating with an expired license and they did not apply for an STA and continued to operate with the expired license. You never know when they will decide to make you the example not to follow. Click here to see an example of a NAL.
NOTICE OF FORFEITURE (NOF)
When the process of dealing with improper radio operation reaches its conclusion, there is often a fine assessed by the FCC. These fines must be paid to the US Treasury within the time frame specified in the Notice of Forfeiture. Click here to see an example of a NOF.
NOTICE TO SHOW CAUSE
When a licensee has done something so serious that the FCC is attempting to revoke their FCC license(s), the FCC will issue a notice to show cause as to why the FCC should not take the enforcement actions that it thinks is appropriate for the situation. This is done in the most serious situations and is not a common thing to happen. Click here to see an order to show cause.