Take a technical problem that could cost lives and property - and make it simple. Then convince federal regulators (or, failing that, lawmakers) to change plans affecting large commercial wireless operators and the quick deposit of billions of dollars into the U.S. Treasury.

That's the task facing state and local administrators responsible for public safety radio communications. To get the job done, they need help from officials such as police and fire chiefs and city managers. They need help from mayors, governors, city council members, county commissioners, state legislators, representatives and senators.

What's the problem?

You've read about it in these pages. Public safety radio systems that now use certain frequencies often suffer destructive interference from commercial wireless antenna sites. Police officers and firefighters sometimes can't communicate when the interference happens. At critical moments, it could cost them their lives; it could cost the lives of those they are sworn to protect; and it could result in property loss that otherwise might be prevented.

"We've had destructive intereference on our 800MHz mobile data terminal system. We blame the FCC," said Melvin G. Weimeister, police telecommunications superintendent for the city of Phoenix.

Speaking at the Public Safety Spectrum Protection meeting on Dec. 13, 2000, at Motorola University in Tempe, AZ, Weimeister said that the mistakes visited upon the 800MHz band are about to be visited upon the newly allocated public safety frequencies in the 700MHz band. Frequencies in that band are scheduled to be transferred from TV broadcasters to public safety radio, commercial wireless and private radio users.

"The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 set up the 700MHz band, and the FCC is not fulfilling the allocation set up by that act. The time to react is now, before we have a 700MHz problem. We need to react before March 2001," Weimeister said.

March 2001 is the postponed date for the FCC to auction the 700MHz commercial wireless frequencies. The problem is that the FCC intends to allow the auction winners to use their frequencies and to place their antenna sites in such a way that will cause destructive interference to public safety radio systems in the 700MHz band similar to what is caused in the 800MHz band.

Public safety radio communications needs to be protected from interference from commercial wireless communications. In a cooperative effort, representatives from the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials - International, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association and Motorola formed a Best Practices Committee to define the interference and to recommend possible solutions. The findings were set to be released on Dec. 15, 2000, a day after this page was to go to press.

Speaking at the spectrum protection meeting, Steve Adler, director of North American Standards Strategy for Motorola's Commercial, Government and Industrial Solutions Sector, gave a preview of the Best Practices Committee's work.

"What's needed are protection criteria based on adjacent-channel coupled power, regardless of the technology that a commercial wireless company might use, such that the power in the public safety bandwidth is at or below that of the level of an isolation standard," Adler said.

There it is. But participants at the meeting emphasized that public officials, and the FCC itself, won't be swayed by technical details. Here's the way the executive officer of the Phoenix police department, Asst. Chief Mike McCort, put it:

"Changing technology offers an opportunity to improve service. Digital is an improvement, as in Phoenix with MDTs on 800MHz. I don't know all the technology stuff - you push the button and talk. We tried to add base stations and improve antenna placement. Nextel powers up, and we get spots where we can't talk. We don't have much time. We have to talk with Congress, and maybe get them and the FCC to change the way the space is set so the [antennas and frequencies] are not so close. We hope you'll join us in writing to your congressmen and senators. That's all I have to say."

Lend your voice to persuade the FCC to change its plans for 700MHz in a way that protects public safety radio communications. Mel Weimeister can help you to do it if you email him at mweimeis@ci.phoenix.az.us. And if you don't mind, please send me a copy of your written communication to the FCC and public officials on this matter.