Over the past year, I have been a staunch advocate (along with many other public safety organizations and representatives) of a plan to eliminate a serious radio interference problem that has plagued public safety for more than 5 years.
I have been reporting to you the problems, the proposed solutions and the barriers. Over the last several weeks, all of the planets have finally come into almost perfect alignment in favor of public safety. Originally, Nextel sought out public safety and drafted the original plan to eliminate this dreaded and potentially deadly problem. In April 2004, I provided an explanation of the problem on Firehouse.com.
The resolution to this problem has been complex to say the least. Here's a "behind the scenes" overview of the major happenings and where we are today:
- 1999 Radio interference from commercial radio licensees discovered in cities' public safety radio systems.
- 2000 Discussions and strategies developed to overcome radio interference.
- 2001 Nextel files a white paper with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for substantial rebanding of 800 MHz spectrum. This is supported by a consortium of public safety organizations.
- 2002 The FCC releases a Notice of Public Rulemaking (NPRM) to improve public safety radio communications in the 800 MHz spectrum and solicits comments.
Public Safety organizations (the IAFC, IACP, National Sheriffs, APCO-International and others) along with Nextel submit the "Consensus Plan". A proposal that dramatically realigns the 800 MHz radio spectrum.
- 2003 Throughout this year, many more significant reports of public safety radio interference are filed with the FCC. Over 1,000 reports over the United States are now on file.
A number of commercial wireless Vendors (Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and others) submit an alternative "Balanced Approach" Plan which references a "best practices" approach which is largely reactive.
The Cellular Telephone and Internet Association (CTIA) challenges the Consensus Plan as "legally infirm".
- 2004 John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted", supports the Consensus Plan on a segment of "Larry King Live" as the only true solution to radio interference.
Public Safety representatives from the IAFC, IACP, National Sheriff's Association, and APCO hold a press conference at the National Press Club in support of Consensus Plan to discuss the problem and to request an immediate solution.
Several large public safety organizations expressed concerns about the Consensus Plan but supported the rebanding effort after having those concerns addressed.
Throughout 2004, public safety representatives from the aforementioned organizations diligently sent information, met with and educated members of Congress and the FCC.
On July 7, the FCC issued a unanimous and one of its finest decisions (see previous Firehouse.com article, FCC's Decision: A Windfall for Public Safety that essentially followed the premise of the Consensus Plan with some significant modifications.
After the FCC Order was released, the CTIA sent a proactive letter to the International Association of Fire Chiefs indicating its willingness to expedite the FCC Order to correct radio interference.
In addition, commercial wireless vendors continued to resist the Consensus Plan by what FCC Chairman Michael Powell indicated were some of the harshest lobbying that he had ever seen.
Next, Senator Frank Lautenberg's Office requested that the General Accounting Office (GAO) review the FCC Ruling as to the legality of the action taken by the FCC.
In an unexpected turn of events, Verizon Wireless also changed its position from opposition to support after some reported legal negotiations with Nextel on other unrelated matters.
Lastly, the GAO released its report on the review of the FCC Order for reconfiguring the 800 MHz radio spectrum. According to the GAO report released on Monday November 8, 2004, the plan by the Federal Communications Commission to solve public-safety interference in the 800 MHz did not violate either the Antideficiency Act or the Miscellaneous Receipts Act. This essentially resolved the questions raised by Senator Lautenberg's Office and eliminating the last hurdle that stood in the way of moving this rebanding effort forward.