New public radio safety system underway

TEMP ORARY March 29, 2012 0

President Barack Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 last month. According to Accounting Web, this legislation will extend the length of time that Americans can have a “payroll tax holiday” and other unemployment benefits until the end of 2012, rather than the original ending date, March 1. Usually employees have to pay 6.2 percent of their wages to the federal payroll tax, but until the end of 2012, they will only have to pay 4.2 percent. Besides helping cut taxes, this legislation also helps with Medicare, helping seniors have access to the doctors they need.

According to radio stations across the country, there was something hidden in the fine print that could potentially be negative. Near the end of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, there is a section called “Spectrum Auction Authority,” which: “Reallocates the 700 MHz D Block from commercial to public safety use” and “Requires public safety to return the 700 MHz narrow band and guard band spectrum five years after standards have been set for the carriage of public safety voice communications over broadband networks.” This means that some public safety radio stations are being forced to change the frequency from which they broadcast, so that the government can use these newly open frequencies for their own use.

This specifically affects radio stations in Lancaster County. The county is currently building a new public safety radio system that is on the same frequency that the government wants to use. Lancaster County wants to switch over to a T-band system, a television communications band, because it is a big step up from the current system which is technologically outdated by several decades. If Lancaster County switches over to the T-band system, they would be able to reach more people and allow emergency services to be communicated on their frequency. Millions of dollars have been put into this project, going back 10 years.

The county hopes to have the new radio system switched over to T-band in the next two years. However, according to Lancaster Online, if the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 is still in effect, the government would shut down the T-band radio system within nine years.

The legislation lists different methods that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can use to entice public safety radio system operators to leave their frequencies. The FCC can “conduct incentive auctions under which it shares some of the proceeds with licensees who return spectrum.” Since the government is expecting to completely clear certain frequencies five years after standards have been set for public safety voice communications, Lancaster County has a difficult decision on their hands. At the moment, they are continuing with their plans of building the new T-band radio system. However, time will tell whether they will be able to keep the system that they have paid millions of dollars to build.

Elizabethtown College also has a radio station, WWEC 88.3, The Sound of Elizabethtown. When asked about this problem in Lancaster, junior Zakiya Fulton-Anderson, the co-station Manager of WWEC, said, “I don’t know if it will affect us here, because we don’t broadcast in Lancaster, we only go five miles off campus.” She does think that it is a good thing that the government plans to take over public safety radio broadcasts because “the police and fire departments will be able to communicate better.”

It is hard to say how the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 will affect Americans. Some things, like payroll tax reductions, will only last until the end of the year. However, other things, like spectrum auction authority, will affect public safety radio system operators for years, if not decades, to come.

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