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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 in the 800 MHz frequency band for more than five years.
I have been reporting to you the problems, the proposed solutions and the barriers. Over the past several weeks, 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 potentially deadly problem. The resolution of 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 the 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 International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International and others – along with Nextel submit the “Consensus Plan,” a proposal that dramatically realigns the 800 MHz radio spectrum.
- 2003 – Throughout the 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 that references a “best practices” approach that is largely reactive.
- The Cellular Telephone and Internet Association (CTIA) challenges the Consensus Plan as “legally infirm.”
- 2004 – John Walsh, host of TV’s “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, NSA 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 and met with and educated members of Congress and the FCC. On July 7, the FCC issued one of its finest decisions, which was unanimous, 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 (IAFC) 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 has ever seen.