For several years, I've written numerous articles on the proper, and improper, use of bi-directional amplifiers, or BDAs, and similar devices. These include a rule-making petition filed with the FCC in 2005 on behalf of Bird Technologies that attempted to make crystal-clear the commission's rules regarding the need for users of such devices to obtain consent from the licensee of the frequencies before attempting to boost the signals. Thus far, the FCC has not acted on the petition, nor has it taken any major steps to curb reported abuses.

Now, two separate issues have put a finer point on BDA use. First, CTIA filed a petition in November that sought a declaratory ruling by the FCC regarding the use of cell jammers. However, CTIA devoted numerous pages of the petition to cell boosters, stressing the importance of installing the devices only where the licensee has consented. Second, in rebanding negotiations, Sprint Nextel has refused to pay for new filters that would convert previously broadband BDA filters to narrowband.

In-building coverage is the hot topic of the moment — where it should be mandatory, where it should be an option and where it perhaps should be limited (such as in a jail). Numerous municipalities have begun to mandate the installation of devices in new office buildings to ensure that first responders have communications ability inside the buildings. A compendium of many of these regulations can be found at http://www.rfsolutions.com/ords.htm.

While in-building boosters have become increasingly important, the improper installation of the devices also has become prevalent, which may have prompted CTIA's petition. The issue has become so important that the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) has developed a best practices paper, which is available at its Web site.

The essential issue is one of consent. A BDA cannot be installed without the permission of the licensee authorized for the frequencies that are being boosted. There are some public safety agencies with 800 MHz NPSPAC and interleaved spectrum. Some of these licensees use BDAs with broadband filters that cover the entire band (851-869 MHz). After rebanding, a portion of this band will be exclusively used by Sprint Nextel (or SouthernLinc or several other licensees in certain locations). Logically, it would make sense to replace the broadband filter with one that cuts off above 861 MHz. Again, however, Sprint Nextel has refused to agree to replace broadband filters. Thus, one might presume Sprint Nextel's consent to amplification of frequencies it will operate after rebanding where it refused to replace filters.

However, with commercial carriers being split out of the lower portions of the 800 MHz band, NPSTC's best practices paper and CTIA's petition — in addition to petitions being filed by booster and jammer manufacturers — the time is ripe for the FCC to undertake a complete review and evaluation of BDAs, boosters and jammers. Certainly, the issue should be taken up to also provide guidance to individual municipalities that may be considering an ordinance.

Action should be taken now, as we now have all parties engaged, BDAs are being worked on as part of rebanding, and consumer units are flooding the field.

Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.