The contract is a direct response to the federal mandate from the FCC’s (Federal Communication Commission) narrow banding of communication radio frequencies in all counties and cities nationwide to be completed by Jan. 1, 2013.
Complying with the federal mandate will actually make radio communication better, said Randy Dowling, county administrator.
“Right now, today, our coverage area is so small that if the Sheriff’s office, public works, etc. are on their handheld radios and their mobile radios for cars in the Fairmount area or Talking Rock, they can’t talk back to 9-1-1, they just get a lot of static,” he said, “we have been putting up with that for a year.”
In order to successfully upgrade to a narrowband system, there must be more radio towers installed in the area, he explained. The contract will allow for one new tower and improvement to two existing tower sites.
This will be the first project funded with 2012 SPLOST (Special Project Local Option Sales Tax) funds and the first phase of the larger communication system upgrade.
If SPLOST funds were not approved, according to Dowling, the money to meet this federally mandated requirement would have been taken from an increase in property taxes from the citizens of Gordon County.
The collections for SPLOST will begin in April of this year, so the first payment on the communications contract - $850,000 - will come from the county landfill fund, Dowling said. After SPLOST revenues begin rolling in, that money will be refunded to the landfill.
In addition to the modernization of the communication system, there is an opportunity for “potential additional profit or revenue,” according to Dowling.
“If there is extra space on the two new (tower) sites we are going to have in the future, we can rent out the extra space on the towers to other private companies for a fee, as long as it does not interfere with our systems” said Dowling.
To comply with the FCC mandate, Gordon County hired consulting company, TUSA, to analyze and make recommendations to make the transition efficient and successful.
The consulting company, hired in 2010 by the county, worked with officials to negotiate the Williams Communications contract down from $2.7 million to $2.3 million, Dowling said. For this amount Williams Communications will provide all the equipment needed for implementing and expanding the county’s coverage area. Williams will provide the county with a one-year warranty for fixing any problems.
“We have so many vendors right now that we are dealing with. If our 911 system breaks it’s a vendor. It’s one system, but it’s three vendors… under this scenario all companies go away and we only deal with this one company for everything. If something breaks we call Williams Communications and they fix everything, and they have an office in Rome,” said Dowling.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday to a 12-month contract with Williams Communications that will require the infrastructure work be done on or before Feb. 8, 2013. This will place Gordon County in compliance for the deadline mandated by the FCC.
Ken Williams Owner and President of Williams Communications attended the meeting Monday along with his Vice President and two of his team members. Williams father started Williams Communications over 50 years ago in the 1940’s, and Ken Williams took over in the 1970’s.
“We are new in the county, but we want to be old with you,” said Williams to the Board of Commissioners Monday.
The ‘golden grail’
The radio system runs on a kilohertz (KHz) frequency measurement now, but the upgrade will bring it up to a megahertz (MHz) measurement.
This is just the beginning of the “golden grail of 800 MHz,” according to Dowling, which will be the most up-to-date and modernized level of digital communication.
Due to the narrow banding of frequencies, constructing more towers will create better coverage. This will also allow interoperability between Gordon and surrounding counties so emergency services and authorities may freely communicate with other state agencies without interference.
According to Commission Chairwoman Judy Bailey, the infrastructure of the current system is outdated and the TUSA consultants were hired to “show us where are and where we should be,” she said.
“We hired the consultants to make sure the groundwork was there, so that every area of the county would be covered … this way we will have a system in place to be able to move forward. We want emergency agencies to be able to communicate with each other so that everybody will be safe and secure, this is of the utmost importance,” said Bailey.