800 MHz Interference: A Reflective Review
Nextel: done. Recanting the wireless carrier’s long-time slogan is fitting for the occasion. On Feb. 7, Nextel finally agreed to accept the FCC’s 800 MHz rebanding order, which will lead to the elimination of this cause of radio interference.
Early on, Nextel was the leading cause of public-safety radio interference in the 800 MHz frequency band. Knowing this, Nextel had two choices — simply react to problems as they came up — unacceptable from public safety’s perspective — or develop a proactive strategy solution to correct the problem. Nextel chose the latter and decided to work with a newly formed public-safety consortium, which included some of the leading national public-safety organizations.
This consortium forged new relationships that had a profound affect on the FCC proceedings. Alan Caldwell (IAFC), Harlin McEwen (IACP), Vinny Stile (APCO) and Bob Gurss (APCO) are the backbone of this group and are to be commended for their tireless efforts. The cooperation between Nextel and the consortium resulted in a proposal submitted to the FCC known as the Consensus Plan (CP), which outlined a comprehensive rebanding of 800 MHz frequency assignments.
Soon after the CP’s release, opposition mounted quickly, and a battle ensued to defeat it. Several companies initiated a “grass roots” campaign in an attempt to fracture public-safety support. Often these companies provided misleading information and proposed another plan as a poor alternative. Unfortunately, a number of national public-safety agencies succumbed to this persuasive campaign and opposed the CP. Following a re-education campaign by consortium representatives, support for the CP was successfully restored.
The mammoth FCC proceeding that followed was nothing short of a spy-thriller novel. Before running its course, it would involve big business, influential politicians, government regulatory agencies, potential litigation and criminal accusations — with the lives of first responders ultimately hanging in the balance.
At almost every point of progress, there was an 11th hour maneuver by the opposition — some to extremes never seen before. Throughout this proceeding I had a great opportunity to meet with and educate many members of Congress, elected/appointed officials and FCC commissioners, and to also experience our government in action.
For a time, I did not believe that a positive outcome for public safety would be forthcoming — there were too many obstacles. But on July 8, 2004, I was both surprised and elated at the FCC’s order, which embodied everything requested by public safety — and more.
Charles Werner is a 28-year veteran of the fire service and presently serves as deputy chief of the Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Department. He serves on several state and federal interoperability groups, as well as on the IAFC’s Communications Committee and the Project SAFECOM Executive Committee.