Solving 800 MHz Radio Interference: A Win for All

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...

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Next, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) requested that the Government Accountability 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 Nov. 8, the plan by the FCC to solve public -safety interference in the 800 MHz did not violate the Antideficiency Act or the Miscellaneous Receipts Act. This essentially resolved the questions raised by Lautenberg and eliminated the last hurdle that stood in the way of moving this rebanding effort forward. In a press release, Lautenberg stated, “I am satisfied with GAO’s decision that the FCC’s Nextel spectrum swap order does not violate federal law.”

What’s next?

The last step to actually see the rebanding begin will be agreement by Nextel. Obviously, Nextel cannot sign on to the FCC Order until it sees the final version that is published in the Federal Registry. As with their continued support of public safety throughout this process, other wireless reporters believe that will be forthcoming.

Here’s what this means for the fire service:

2. If a department is presently licensed and operating in 800 MHz, then it will (by law) be required to have its equipment retuned or replaced (replaced only if retuning is not possible) to operate on the newly assigned 800 MHz frequencies (through Nextel funding).

3. Fire departments and other public safety organizations that are required to reconfigure their equipment will not have to pay upfront. More information will be forthcoming.

4. Those that are required to make these changes may select their own local radio maintenance companies or utilize others that will be made available. All costs must be reasonable.

5. A Transition Manager will be selected by the FCC to oversee and hear any appeals that may arise from the process.

6. This decision also makes an additional 4 MHz of radio spectrum available in the 800 MHz band immediately for public safety. This equates to approximately an additional 40 talk groups.

7. A final resolution to radio interference will soon be underway and will immediately address some of the dire needs of the larger cities that have been plagued by radio interference and lack of radio spectrum.

8. The consolidated support of the wireless community and the GAO review giving the “green light” on the order resolve the larger concern or delay from court challenges.

What should affected departments do?

2. Assign someone to serve as the department’s transition manager/point of contact.

3. Stay abreast of the information that becomes available from the FCC as to the reconfiguration process.

4. Coordinate with other public safety departments and your local government that share your 800 MHz frequencies as to how this should be done – DO IT TOGETHER!

5. Attend classes that will educate your department on the process.

6. Once informed, develop a local community plan for transition.

Why do we have to do this if we are not experiencing radio interference?

Some department representatives have asked me why they should have to make these changes when they are not presently having interference problems. The reason is that as more wireless devices are deployed, the interference problem grows and – dangerously – occurs without warning. That is why this must be corrected for the present, future and with some sense of finality. You also may be experiencing radio interference problems already, but just don’t know it.

In summary, this decision has resulted in a solution that provides a plan to eliminate radio interference once and for all, at no expense to public safety and at no expense to taxpayers, that provides more radio spectrum to public safety along with a list of other proactive non-public safety-related issues.

First, Nextel must be recognized for addressing this problem in a “head-on” fashion and as a partner with public safety. Without the original white paper submission to the FCC and the ensuing development of the Consensus Plan, public safety would not be where it is today on this issue. It is also important to recognize the many members of Congress who supported the Consensus Plan, which gave impetus for its survival.

The leadership of the major public safety organizations must be recognized for one of the most solid public safety grass-roots campaigns ever launched. This effort crossed every turf imaginable with one common goal: to eliminate radio interference. There are a number of people that must be recognized for this achievement and they are Alan Caldwell (IAFC), Harlin McEwen (IACP), and Vinny Stile and Bob Gurss (APCO). If you are a member of any of these organizations, you got more than your money’s worth in dues on this effort alone. It also demonstrates the power of public safety when it works solidly together on an issue and the importance of all public safety members that took an active role to make a difference – you know who you are.