System buyout resolves interference involving Nextel
Metro Recycling, Kansas City, KS, has purchased two-way radios and 800MHz trunked radio service from KC Wireless in Independence, MO, since 1994.
Trouble began in November 2000 after Nextel Communications placed an 800MHz base station on property adjacent to Metro Recycling’s office.
“Metro Recycling no longer could communicate from its base station,” said a source close to the company who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Their trucks could communicate with one another, but they couldn’t talk to their base, and that’s critical.”
The source said that, acting on a suggestion from KC Wireless, Metro Recycling contacted Nextel and asked the company to turn down the transmitter power at the site.
“They supposedly did that—twice—but to no avail,” the source said. “Nextel made the appearance that they tried to turn their equipment down. Whether they did or not, I couldn’t tell.”
Audrey Schaefer, Nextel’s director of corporate communications, said that Nextel’s antenna sites are covered by permits and operate within FCC guidelines. She said that KC Wireless’s sales manager, Gary E. Light, contacted Nextel on behalf of Metro Recycling.
“Once Mr. Light reported the interference experienced by Metro Recycling, our engineers made significant attempts to resolve Metro’s difficulties by making modifications to our system, but those attempts weren’t entirely successful,” Schaefer said.
Light sent a letter dated May 4 to the FCC Enforcement Bureau’s south central regional director, Dennis P. Carlton. The letter described the problem and asked for an investigation by the federal agency’s Kansas City, MO, field office.
The letter reads that after Light first contacted Nextel about the interference, several weeks passed with no relief for Metro Recycling. The letter says that a Nextel representative then told Light that the only solution was for Nextel to retune its site to different frequencies. Light wrote that he was told that because of the effect the retuning would have on other Nextel sites, the soonest it could be done was February 2001.
“On the week of April 20th, I heard from my customer that they wished to discontinue airtime service with us because Nextel had given them 15 radios,” Light’s letter reads. “The customer further said that Nextel had provided them a special rate plan of $19 per unit per month. I note that Nextel’s published rate plan in our area is $59 per month with an added surcharge for not having access to telephone interconnect.
“Needless to say, this was not the resolution to the interference problem I find acceptable,” the letter reads.
Light characterized Nextel’s action of chasing a customer off of KC Wireless’ system by creating harmful interference as “slamming,” the offer of free radios to Metro Recycling as “dumping,” and the reduced rate as “predatory pricing.”
Schaefer offered a different view of the matter.
After Nextel’s initial efforts to resolve the interference failed, “we then offered to contact Metro Recycling and offer to provide service to satisfy their communications needs while a proposed retune at the site was delayed,” Schaefer said. “We requested and received permission from Mr. Light before our sales agents contacted Metro Recycling.”
Schaefer said that Nextel offered Metro Recycling free Nextel phones and a credit on a Nextel rate plan as a “good-faith gesture to allow Metro Recycling continued reliable communications services.” She said that Metro Recycling accepted Nextel’s offer.
According to Schaefer, it wasn’t long after Metro Recycling agreed to Nextel’s offer that Nextel’s engineers halted their plans to retune the site’s frequencies. She said the reason was because the engineers learned that Nextel had reached a business agreement in September 2000 with Communications Equipment, the licensee of the 800MHz channels on which KC Wireless sells airtime. Communications Equipment is owned jointly by Jim Clark and Phil Holman, and Holman owns KC Wireless.
For the events to make sense, the agreement has to involve the sale of Communications Equipment’s 800MHz licenses to Nextel. Citing a promise of confidentiality as part of the agreement, representatives of the two companies would not explain the agreement, which Schaefer said is pending before the FCC.
“We heard no further complaints from Mr. Light over this matter until receiving a copy of his letter addressed to the FCC,” Schaefer said.
Communications Equipment’s telecommunications attorney, Alan Tilles of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordi & Ecker in Washington, said that Clark and Holman were not aware of Light’s letter to the FCC. Apparently, a copy of the letter that Mobile Radio Technology forwarded to Nextel for comment was, in turn, sent to Tilles and his clients.
“Clark and Holman had no idea that Mr. Light sent a letter to the FCC in May, and the letter was not authorized by either of them,” Schaefer said. “In light of the agreement with Nextel, they have directed Mr. Tilles to withdraw Mr. Light’s request.”
Schaefer said that she has been told that Light was not informed of the business transaction between Nextel and Communications Equipment. Tilles added that many company owners do not share information with their employees about negotiations involving other companies, often because of confidentiality clauses, “and that was the case here.”
For his part, Light denies giving permission to Nextel to supply free radios to Metro Recycling while the Nextel base station interference prevented the customer’s full use of the KC Wireless system.
“My response to the offer of free phones while resolving the issue was something like, ‘No, I don’t think so,’” Light said.
Light puts it this way in his letter to the FCC:
“Explaining the recent change in the 800MHz noise floor to my customers, I tell them to picture the frequencies as parallel bicycle paths—now picture Nextel trying to force a double-wide trailer down its assigned path. They are not only spilling onto the adjacent paths, they are taking out the trees on either side of the paths as well.
“Nextel’s failure to stay within its emission mask is causing much consternation in our industry, especially when those being interfered with are using 800MHz frequencies for public safety systems. While we in the business world are forced to lose only customers and profits, I can only hope this issue is resolved before users in the public safety arena suffer far greater losses,” Light’s letter reads.
Meanwhile, Metro Recycling continues using the radios provided by Nextel.
“In some respects, the difference is some good and some bad,” the source close to Metro Recycling said. “The coverage area for Nextel isn’t 100% of what Metro Recycling had with KC Wireless’ two-way service, but in some other respects, it’s better.”
He said that that a representative of KC Wireless had informed Metro Recycling that it would be offering service on a different system because Nextel was buying some of its frequencies and that the 800MHz service from KC Wireless would be “history.”
He said that, in the meantime, Metro Recycling is locked into a “minimal rate” with Nextel, although “how long that will last is anyone’s guess.”
At the same time Mobile Radio Technology forwarded a copy of Light’s letter to Nextel, we sent copies for comment to two telecommunications attorneys not involved with the people and companies mentioned in this story. One responded. Our regulatory consultant, Robert H. Schwaninger Jr. of Schwaninger & Associates in Washington, had this to say:
“Had Mr. Light been a client of mine, I would have recommended that he bring a formal complaint against Nextel, which would result in his obtaining compensation for loss of revenues and customers. Although no one wants to deal with the issue directly, the fact is that that the willful commission of adjacent-channel interference is against the FCC rules and is subject to a cause of action via a formal complaint. The unfortunate thing is that many people, including Mr. Light, attempt to resolve these matters by themselves, without sufficient knowledge or leverage. Therefore, if Nextel becomes recalcitrant, the operator suffers,” Schwaninger said.