The independent blog on spectrum policy issues
that welcomes your input on the key policy issues of the day.

Our focus is the relationship between spectrum policy
and technical innnovation.

A net neutrality free zone: We pledge no mention of any net neutrality issues before 2018.

When they deserve it, we don't hesitate to criticize either NAB, CTIA or FCC.

Comments on NTIA Prison Jamming NOI

Last Friday was the due date for comments on NTIA’s NOI on the use of jammers to deny inmates cellphone use in prisons. As discussed earlier, this NOI resulted from Congressional “guidance” in a report on budget legislation. No doubt this was a delaying tactic initiated by the cellular industry, but at least it helps “kick the ball down the road” since FCC has successfully ducked the issue to date. Indeed, while it is widely thought that FCC has ruled that Section 333 of the Comm Act prevents FCC from authorizing any jamming, the Commission has never made such a finding. No matter how many times NTIA and CTIA want to repeat this allegation, they have been unable to document it.

Yes, there are staff actions taken under delegated authority that in passing state that the Commission is restricted by Section 333. But these have never been ratified by the Commission or any case law. A filing last year by the South Carolina Department of Corrections gives an alternative explanation of the legislative history of Section 333 and options for authorizing cell phone jamming in prisons under present legislation. CTIA’s silence on the issue is deafening.

In the NTIA NOI CTIA started its comments dramatically:

Between May 17 and May 20, 2010, there was a significant interference event in downtown Philadelphia that disrupted commercial wireless service and GPS signals and involved the joint efforts of the Coast Guard, the FCC, the NCS, and carriers. Due to inference from a jammer, GPS equipment failed to work and navigation aids (including those used by the Coast Guard and potentially the FAA) and timing synchronization based on GPS at wireless base stations were disrupted. Numerous CMRS base station sites completely lost the ability to make voice and data communications work, resulting in excessive blocked and dropped calls, and wireless providers and first responders relying upon GPS for 911 calls‟ location information were adversely affected. This was due to a jammer.

Terrible! But what does this have to do with the use of jamming in isolated prisons under either pending legislation or the South Carolina petition that FCC has never even put out for public comment. This episode appears to be related to the FCC’s previously reported indifference to the marketing of GPS jammers where it took 23 months to close a case of marketing an obviously illegal device. Perhaps rather than using this as “evidence” that any prison jamming will be harmful, CTIA should press FCC why the FCC Enforcement Bureau was so dilatory in this GPS jammer case.

The CTIA comments repeat the usual allegations “that ‘overjamming’ is an inevitable outcome of the operation of jamming equipment in prisons”( p.20). They quote NTIA as follows:

The jammer emissions were transmitted entirely indoors. The targeted jamming zone was the interior of a two-floor reinforced cinderblock structure measuring 30 meters (m) long by 8 m wide. Jammer emissions were measured both indoors and outdoors, that is, both inside and outside the targeted jamming zone. . . . For the outdoor locations where jamming was not intended, the results showed that jammer power was measurable at distances up to 127 m from the building.

Was the “measurable” jammer power harmful interference? Was the 127m distance from the building an area accessible to the general public? Would anyone outside a maximum security prison with a large spatial buffer have been impacted by this jamming?

Finally, CTIA put great faith in “managed access”

Under managed access, when a call is made from a CMRS device located on prison grounds, the device recognizes the managed access system as the strongest signal, which enables the system to obtain information such as the device serial number, SIM card, or both. The managed access system would cross-reference this information against a database that indicates whether the device is unauthorized. If the system determines that the device is unauthorized, the managed access system does not permit the call to be completed and will either transmit a voice message to the caller, or direct the call to a designated official point of contact. Calls made from authorized devices will go through as intended.

Works like magic! Now, CTIA, here are some practical questions from the MSS comments to NTIA on the managed access alternative that you you have been dodging for a while:
  • Who will pay for this managed access system you prefer?
  • If it handles real legitimate revenue calls for the carrier should they pay at least part of the cost of the system?

  • Are you advocating that FCC require all cellular carriers - not just the major carriers who control CTIA policy - to participate in managed access?

  • Will CTIA support a regulation that forbids cellular carriers from implementing any technical change in their that will impact managed access until all the managed access systems are updated to cope with it? (Old timers will note that this would be similar to 1980s era Open Network Architecture/ONA of BOCs that they despised. This is ironic since the new AT&T is one of CTIA major members and is one of those BOCs of that era.)

CTIA repeatedly uses the word “overjamming” in its comments. A Google search shows no other use by anyone of such a phrase in anything resembling this context. However, it revealed a European music group called Overjam that has several YouTube videos. So in honor of CTIA’s recent contribution to spectrum jargon, here is a video from Overjam. Maybe CTIA can play it at the inevitable ex parte meetings on this topic on the 8th Floor:

Overjam Video

The cellular industry has made great contributions to public safety in many areas. But the epidemic of cell phone use in prisons and the horrendous consequences are an unintended consequence of ubiquitous small cell phones. Rather than respond with a FUD attack (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) on the jamming alternative, why doesn’t the cellular industry work more effectively with the corrections agencies to implement solutions that are both affordable and practical. Why doesn’t FCC get off the fence and pressure the cellular industry to make more progress in this area rather than focus on FUD.


Your blogger’s comments to NTIA have now been posted.

blog comments powered by Disqus