Thursday, January 26, 2006
A long-awaited swap of airwaves aimed at eliminating cellphone interference with emergency-service radios across the USA is in turmoil, prolonging communications problems and risking public safety, law enforcement officials say.
Public-safety officials and consultants largely blame cost disputes with Sprint Nextel, which is bankrolling the $2.8 billion project. They fear the spectrum transfer, which began in July and is to be completed by mid-2008, could be delayed or done improperly, further hindering communications.
Sprint Nextel says the disputes were to be expected.
"We have significant concerns that the process has been stalled," says Robert Gurss of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, which last week voiced its concerns to the Federal Communications Commission. "Interference could endanger lives."
Since the mid-1990s, Nextel cellphones have disrupted public-safety radio systems in hundreds of cities, including Seattle, Miami and Denver. The reason: Frequencies used by public safety and Nextel are interlaced. The problem sometimes hampers emergency response, such as when firefighters at a 2004 Elks Lodge blaze in Mesquite, Texas, could not use their walkie-talkies.
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