Three bills under consideration in Congress could potentially result in the auctioning of radio spectrum used by the alarm industry. A House bill specifically calls for auctioning of the 450 to 470MHz spectrum, which is used to transmit signals from homes and businesses to monitoring centers. Two Senate bills would auction unspecified spectrum to finance a public safety network or other programs. Michael Sherman, president and CEO of AES Corp., a provider of wide area wireless mesh communications equipment, discusses the subject. The company’s AES-IntelliNet solution is a primary user of a portion of the spectrum being considered for auctioning.
Are you confident the alarm industry can safeguard the frequencies it uses?
I am totally confident that the frequencies in question will remain as they are for the security industry. Basically, the frequencies were selected in error by a consultant to Congress. What may not be understood is that there are many millions of pieces of equipment on these bands - from the millions of drive-through establishments to the railroad industries that rely on the availability of these frequencies. The use of this band by the alarm industry represents less than 1 percent of the total usage of the frequency band in question. The users that represent the other 99 percent are also dedicated and focused on their continued use of this frequency.
These frequencies represent almost every American institution in the country. To give you an indication, here are some of the constituents that would be affected by selling off these frequencies: all public safety agencies; the entire forest industry; hundreds of fire and police for cities and towns across the nation; the utility industry; the highway departments in many cities and towns; the petroleum industry; 800,000 radio amateurs; plus, the McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts drive-throughs use these frequencies.
To remove these frequencies from use would be an attack on the fabric and character of the American experience. Also, there are already indications that these frequencies are off the list for all the above reasons and more. Politics being what it is, no politician can attack such a broad cross section of America especially if other options are available, and there are many other options available.
What can installing security contractors do to help oppose the auctioning?
The CSAA [Central Station Alarm Association] and all the other alarm industry institutions have mobilized their membership to write their individual members of Congress and senators to notify them that we are not in favor of this bill and that it should be withdrawn from consideration. This effort has been going on for months and should not stop until the bill and/or the provision for these frequency bands is permanently removed. This is and will continue to be a grassroots effort — from the smallest state alarm associations to the national alarm associations.
If an auction was to proceed, how soon would its impact be felt?
First, one must know that the bands will not just disappear; they will be relocated to a different part of the radio spectrum. The FCC has done this before when it moved the broadcasters out of the 1.9GHz band in favor of PCS radio, the forerunner of cellular. In order to take over these frequencies the following was required to happen first: A new piece of spectrum that was unused was located; the users of the frequency were given a few years to relocate; the cell company had to pay the broadcasters the full cost to relocate onto the new spectrum. This included the cost of the equipment, labor and all costs associated with the move. This worked for this band as moving a few hundred broadcasters was cheap relative to the value of this new frequency.
What is of key importance here is that if a move was to become a reality, then the auction winner would be required to pay the alarm companies (as well as the millions of other users) their full cost to move to the new band.
This is not what happened in the past with the AMPS cellular sunset. In that sunset the cellular companies turned off the cell service and forced the alarm companies to replace all the equipment at the alarm companies’ expense. This will again happen when the GSM networks are replaced with the new high speed LTE [4G] networks. This time the industry will be stuck replacing millions of GSM radios at their cost. If the FCC can find 40MHz of unused frequency to move the millions of users to this new piece of spectrum, then why don’t they just use this new spectrum from the very start? This is why it is becoming clear to everyone that moving millions of users is not politically or financially a good idea.
Will the demise of POTS allow for new opportunities in the alarm industry?
This is an opportunity for the alarm industry to embrace and add new technologies to its service offerings. There is pressure on the industry to do more than it has done in the past. I do believe that the need to deal with the changing communication infrastructure will require the dealers to rethink how they do things and perhaps stretch a little more when it comes to moving away from their classic mode of operation.
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