Public safety takes its case to the new FCC chairman and to Congress
The word is that many members of the FCC staff remain convinced that the problem is big enough at 800mhz to warrant changes in regulation of that band.
We congratulate Michael Powell on moving up to the chairmanship of the FCC. The position is a lightning rod for every issue that has to do with telecommunications — and a few that don’t. Mr. Powell will be hearing from thousands of people like you who will be pleading their various cases.
Perhaps the most pressing regulatory issue for you has to do with present and future interference to public safety radio communications systems.
Present interference mostly involves signals from Nextel base station antennas that block 800MHz voice and data communications for police and fire departments in locations near the base stations.
Future interference involves signals from yet-to-be-built wireless base station antennas and the much-anticipated public safety radio systems, both on 700MHz frequencies. It’s certain that similar interference will result if the 700MHz wireless systems are built according to current regulations and auction terms.
More information on this matter appears on pages 20 and 96.
If you respond to the request that Phoenix police Chief Harold Hurtt makes in his letter on page 96, then Mr. Powell will be hearing from you soon. Whether Mr. Powell will be impressed if he receives a lot of correspondence from the two-way radio community is difficult to predict. If he doesn’t hear about the problem from you, though, he may not hear about it from his staff.
The word is that many members of the FCC staff remain to be convinced that the problem is big enough at 800MHz to warrant changes in the regulation of that frequency band. Many FCC staff members are moved even less by evidence that public safety agency use of the 700MHz band will be dramatically curtailed by commercial wireless base stations.
The FCC is an independent regulatory agency, and its independence hardly shows more clearly than when it thumbs its nose at its creator and sometimes overseer, Congress. Congress has made efforts many times and in many ways to tell the FCC to make spectrum available for public safety communications and to protect it from interference.
Congress? Help wanted
Whether Congress will come to the aid of public safety agencies in this matter depends on how effectively the enormity of the problem can be communicated. The subject of public safety radio communications gets brief flurries of attention following acts of terror, natural disasters and accidents on the scale of airliner crashes and passenger train derailments. The attention quickly fades.
How the current and pending interference problems at 800MHz and 700MHz are resolved today will underpin tomorrow’s public safety communications capability to handle its mission.
How is it going with Congress so far?
Mr. Hurtt and officers from the Phoenix police and fire unions met with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at his Phoenix office on Jan. 17. Mr. McCain chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC.
Although the senator had been briefed about the interference problem, the issue was, in his view, only a difference of opinion between Motorola and the FCC.
The delegation visiting the senator explained that the FCC frequently disregards its engineering staff’s opinions in favor of those of its economists.
One delegate said that the senator reviewed the data that the delegation presented, challenged the arguments for soundness, and then agreed to take them further in Washington.
The position of the delegation visiting the senator is that the FCC must accept expert opinion, either from its own Office of Engineering Technology or from trusted industry sources. To deny the noise contributions of new digital modulation technologies is to deny that problems exist in 800MHz.
The regulations and auction terms for the 700MHz band must be revised to prevent a further, unnecessary increase of the noise floor in this new public safety spectrum.