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Radio Spectrum Auction Threatens Alarm Communications

April 15, 2011  | 

Legislation currently being deliberated in Congress if adopted could result in the subsequent auctioning of portions of radio spectrum used by the electronic security industry to transmit alarm signals.

Three bills introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 607) and the Senate (S. 28 and S. 455) aim to help meet the snowballing demand for wireless broadband services by selling portions of the spectrum for commercial use and the general public. If auctioned, likely suitors include telecom companies such as Verizon and AT&T, which covet additional spectrum to build out broadband cellular networks.

The Senate bills include language to inventory spectrum usage with the potential to auction sections of it in order to pay for a nationwide Public Safety Network. However, H.R. 607 specifically calls for the auctioning of the 450- to 470MHz spectrum, which includes frequencies used to transmit residential and commercial alarm signals to central stations.

"The 450 to 470 MHz spectrum would no longer be valid for us," Lou Fiore, chairman of the Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), tells SSI. "The interference would be incredible."

Last year, the FCC released its National Broadband Plan in which the agency pledged to identify 500MHz of additional broadband spectrum within the next 10 years. Of that, an initial 300MHz is to be identified and made available before year five of the plan. The remaining balance is to be made available by the end of the 10-year period.

"They are looking under every rock to find frequencies. There is an insatiable demand for this stuff, and they feel if they don't get it is going to hold back the economy," Fiore says.

The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) coordinates frequencies between 460- and 466MHz; monitoring centers must be UL-, FM- or Intertek-certified to operate in this range of the spectrum. AES-IntelliNet, a provider of patented wireless mesh technology, is the primary user of the 460- and 466MHz range, Fiore says. Legacy equipment, such as SAFECOM radio infrastructure, has used the same range for many years. Still more communications equipment operates across the 450- to 470MHz band.

But additional frequencies used for short-range devices could be in danger as well, says Fiore, an alarm communications pioneer and a SSI Hall of Fame inductee.

"Frequencies in the 300 to 350 band, and possibly at around 900, could be in danger too," he says. "Those are the wireless sensors that are on premise - a door contact or a smoke detector, a passive infrared unit that communicates back to a control set without wires. This includes PERS [personal emergency response system] devices."

Although the three bills have only recently been introduced, the AICC is urging all installing security contractors to contact their representatives and senators to express how the security industry and their livelihoods could be harmed if the frequencies are auctioned.

"If you are a small installer, especially, you just can't buy new equipment," says Bill Signer, executive managing director of Washington D.C.-based Carmen Group Inc., a longtime lobbyist for AICC. "That would be very costly. People will lose their business. Congress and the FCC will never adequately compensate them for both parts of maintaining the old network as well as migrating to a new network."

Signer and the AICC have been working to apprise Congressional committee members with jurisdiction over telecommunications issues about the threat to the industry. The lobbying effort extends to the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, where its chairman Peter King (R-NY) is working on creating a public safety network.

"The purpose of drafting a bill and introducing it is to get public comment, so [politicians] understand what the implications are in order to make an informed decision," Signer says. "They can't make an informed decision unless the industry and the individual businesses tell them that it most definitely is going to have a huge impact."

Note: Story via Security Sales & Integration.

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