Cell-jamming bill clears first senate hurdle
Senate Commerce Committee members last month approved legislation that would allow the jamming of illegal cell phones used by prison inmates.
Proposed use of jamming technologies has been a controversial subject within the wireless community, with proponents noting numerous examples of inmates using contraband cell phones to continue running their criminal enterprises and the need to stop activities.
However, many wireless-industry experts expressed concern that jamming technologies aren’t sophisticated enough to simply block illegal calls within prisons, so jamming could prevent legitimate wireless calls — including cell-phone calls to 911 — from being made outside the prison area.
Sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), the bill includes language that is designed to protect public-safety and legitimate commercial wireless services outside a correctional institution.
“The [FCC] shall immediately suspend authorization granted under this section with respect to a correctional facility upon receiving written notice from a commercial mobile service provider … stating that use of a jamming device by or at such correctional facility is interfering with commercial mobile service, or is otherwise preventing or jamming such communications (other than within the correctional facility),” the bill states.
Multiple efforts to test jamming technologies have been thwarted largely because of opposition from wireless organizations such as CTIA, the largest trade association for cellular carriers.
“We still believe non-interfering technology is the best solution, and we’ll continue to work toward that being the resolution here,” CTIA spokesman John Walls said. “The dialog that we’ve had with [Sen. Hutchison’s] office and the exchange of ideas has been very productive. We think the legislation is making progress, but we still think jamming is not the solution.”
Earlier this summer, CTIA proposed pilot test of alternatives such as cell-detection technology instead of using jamming equipment to halt illegal cell-phone communications from prisons. Walls said these tests have not been conducted yet but are still being explored.
“They have not been tested yet in that setting, but they are viable, on-the-market technologies,” Walls said. “It’s not like this is just off the drawing board and no one is sure if it will work. These solutions currently exist.”