Some Wisconsin counties say new radio signals cover a smaller areaSome Sheriffs’ departments in Wisconsin say their radio systems are losing coverage after complying with a federal mandate to cut their bandwidth.
By: By Rich Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Some Sheriffs’ departments in Wisconsin say their radio systems are losing coverage after complying with a federal mandate to cut their bandwidth. They say it’s risking officers' safety and costing taxpayers money.
Before January first, all two way public safety radios in America must be narrowband compliant. That means the radio signals used by police, fire and ambulances will be compressed in half to free up space for other channels. The technology to do this has been around for a long time and the Federal Communications Commission announced the narrowbanding mandate 10 years ago. But some Wisconsin counties, like Marquette, didn’t switch until this year and Marquette County Sheriff Kim Gaffney says he's disappointed.
“In early May when the system was turned on and we went to a full narrowband issue we lost a large amount of our coverage area,” he says.
Gaffney says Marquette County spent more than $1 million to upgrade their system prior to the switch and now they may have to spend even more to fix the deadspots.
It’s the same story in Vernon County with its bluffs and coulees. Sheriff John Spears says there's more at stake than just money.
“For me it’s a public safety issue and an officer safety issue because we don’t have as good of coverage as we had before it and it’s very frustrating to try and work with that,” he says.
But Steve Dubberstein of Communications Service in Portage says while there is a slight drop in signal strength with narrowbanding, counties can’t blame all of their radio woes on the federal mandate.
“If a radio system is weak it sort of exposes those weaknesses more by narrowbanding," he says.
Public safety radio license holders that don't narrowband before the first of the year could lose their FCC license and essentially be silenced. But Dubberstein says he doesn't expect that to happen to any Wisconsin county.