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25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

25th Anniversary of FCC Decision Enabling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
A series of posts describing how this all came about. (Click on picture above)

Friday, November 21, 2008

SpectrumTalk Update

CTIA's preferred solution to contraband cellphones
in prisons

CTIA: Get Real/
FCC: Get Off the Fence

Jammer Petition Has Little to do with Reality/
FCC is Abdicating Leadership on
Prison Jamming Issue

Newer Update from Time magazine 11/26/08
"Speaking to TIME from Panama, where he was on a sales trip to Latin American prisons, Melamed said CellAntenna is selling jamming technology worldwide, sometimes with the help of promotional trips arranged by the U.S. Department of Commerce. He calls it ironic that one branch of the Federal Government is promoting jamming while another is blocking it. Across the globe, more and more countries are buying jamming equipment. Britain has embarked on a major study to address the issue."

WJBF-TV Video coverage of controversy

Other news articles on prison jamming
Today's USA Today has a cover page article on this problem that won't go away even as FCC tries to ignore it:

Smuggled Cellphones Flourish in Prisons

Thousands of illegal cellphones are being smuggled into prisons, where inmates, including some on death row, use them to threaten victims, conduct drug deals, plot escape and seek legal help, prison officials say.

The phones, most operating on prepaid accounts bought by relatives and friends, often are not caught in searches at visitor entries.

"States are struggling with this," says Eric Schultz, spokesman for the American Correctional Association.

In South Carolina, more than 1,000 phones were confiscated last year, corrections spokesman Josh Gelinas says. In McCormick, S.C., smugglers have used a makeshift launcher to shoot phones and drugs over 12-foot prison fences for inmates to pick up.

Other states reporting problems:

•Florida: Officials seized 336 phones last year, many from violent inmates. Some prisoners used the phones to harass their victims, make drug deals and plan escape, prisons spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger says.

A state law that took effect last month makes inmate phone possession a felony. Next month, the state will assign a Belgian Malinois to roam the prisons and sniff out the phones.

•Texas: More than 700 cellphones have been seized so far this year, up from 580 last year. "We're picking up new cases every day," says John Moriarty, the prison system's inspector general. In one 30-day period, officials traced 2,800 calls and text messages to death row inmate Richard Tabler, who called a state senator about his appeal. Texas is bringing in three phone-detection dogs.

•California: Cellphone seizures in 2008 have topped the 1,400 confiscated in 2007, state prisons spokesman Paul Verke says. An advisory group of state prison wardens is studying the problem.

Some states' prison officials say federal law may actually help inmates by prohibiting the jamming gear that blocks calls. South Carolina authorities planned to test that law Friday by hosting a jamming-technology demo.

Federal Communications Commission spokesman Robert Kenny would not say whether the agency would act against South Carolina authorities. (Emphasis added)

Despite what US Today says, Federal law does not prohibit prison cell phone jamming. Present FCC Rules imply that it would be illegal. However, FCC could address this by either a policy statement or an explicit rules authorizing prison cell phone jamming. As the original post, below said, such an FCC rule could use the technical provisions that NTIA has adopted to protect GPS from GPS amplifiers (that allow normal GPS receivers to work indoors) to protect cell phones outside of prisons. Such safeguards would probably prevent cell phone jamming in urban jails with no buffer around the building, but would allow it in most correctional facilities. Nonincarcerated cellphone customers would not be affected under such reasonable safeguards.

On 11/2/07 CTIA filed a petition with FCC asking for a declaratory petition to ban all cell phone jammers. (FCC has no jurisdiction over federal agency spectrum use so federal agencies would not be affected by such a ruling.) Wisely, FCC has never taken any action on this petition - not even asking for public comment. While addressing the jammer issue, CTIA gratuitously asks FCC to also ban users' amplifiers that extend the range of their often underbuilt systems as shown below from a previous post. While some amplifiers approved by FCC have a tendency of self oscillation that poses an interference risk, other amplifiers - such as those built by my client Wilson Electronics - have builtin protection. The protected phones gives users a larger service area. So why is this bad?

A contraband prison cellphone

A recent CNN item reports how cell phones in prison continue to be a real security threat. The photo above shows a smuggled cell phone. Prison jammers would enhance public safety. While they may not be practical in urban jails with adjacent buildings, they could be a real security boost for prisons with some land around them.

CTIA, wake up and support the use of jammers in prisons under reasonable conditions, such as conditions analogous to the rules NTIA has for GPS repeaters in Section 8.3.28 in the "NTIA Red Book":

This NTIA rule limits stength outside the building that is intended to be covered by the GPS repeater to that receivers outside the building aren't affected. A parallel FCC rule could allow cell phone jamming in prisons and yet protect cell phones outside the prison. CTIA, doesn't safety to the public and prison staff deserve this limited use of cell phone jamming?

On November 12, 2008 CTIA showed its lack of interest in public safety by writing to FCC to oppose a one day test of cell phone jamming at a South Carolina prison. CTIA suggests that the problem can be solved with "sniffer dogs" and scanners, but offered no resources to prove their hypothesis. Perhaps the CTIA staff would like to do a field test in a correctional facility to test out their ideas?

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