Even though health care is the hot topic of the moment, the issue of signal jamming continues to move forward in Congress.

As currently drafted, S. 251, the Safe Prisons Communications Act, requires the FCC to conduct a rulemaking regarding the potential use of wireless jamming equipment in correctional facilities. As part of this rulemaking, the commission must get input from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), must establish rules and criteria for the approval of jamming systems, and must conduct field testing of all devices submitted for approval.

Approved devices must operate at the lowest possible power output necessary to facilitate jamming and operate on a directionalized basis to limit the chance for interference. The legislation also provides that approved devices and systems can only be operated by approved correctional facilities.

Prior to seeking such approval, a correctional facility must notify public-safety agencies and commercial wireless providers in its area. This will begin a limited coordination period during which the facility, public safety and commercial wireless entities may consult on wireless use in the areas adjacent to the facility and on the selection and proposed configuration of jamming systems and devices to minimize anticipated interference.

At the conclusion of the short consultation process, the correctional facility may file its waiver request with the FCC. Following approval, a correctional facility may install and configure the jamming system and associated devices. However, prior to powering on the devices, a second brief coordination period will allow public-safety entities the opportunity to inspect the installation to guarantee that the system was configured and installed to avoid anticipated interference.

Finally, the bill requires post-installation and operation safeguards for the shutdown of a jamming system if there is interference that was not anticipated in the device approval or coordination processes. Additionally, each correctional facility approved to operate a jamming system must have a documented procedure to shut down the systems and devices in any circumstance where a public-safety entity is responding to an incident at the prison, to ensure there is no potential interference with public-safety radios.

Even if you believe that signal jammers in prisons is a bad idea, a cursory review of these provisions reveals a bill that is workable. Specifically, the bill directs the FCC to conduct a rulemaking process. During this process, naysayers will have an opportunity to provide the proper technical input to the proper technical folks without trying to fight through all of the white noise on Capitol Hill. Thus, the opportunity has been created to have rules crafted by those with knowledge.

Further, by subjecting the implementation of signal jammers to a waiver process, additional protections are built into the system to enable those negatively impacted to oppose the waiver. This second step is important, because the waiver process creates safeguards to ensure that signal jammers are not implemented by jails without due diligence.

Thus, should a bill be adopted along the lines of the current Senate legislation, the land mobile industry should assist the FCC in adopting standards and procedures which accomplish the goal, while minimizing the disastrous possibilities.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

>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.

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