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New York Seeks TV-Interference Waiver

The FCC has asked for comment on whether to allow a new emergency communications system in New York that would likely interfere with television reception, at least until the switch to digital.

In November, New York state petitioned the FCC for a waiver to create the system in the 700 mhz band, even though it is likely to create some interference to TV channels 62, 63, 64, 67, 68 and 69. It argued that the interference would be minimal and, in any event, would end with the switch to digital.

When the DTV transition is complete, that spectrum--chs 52-69--will be cleared of TVs and made available for emergency communicators, among others, but that isn't happening until mid 2009.

Looking to avoid the kind of communications problems that plagued it on 9/11, New York wants to create the system now, saying that "many radio systems lack sufficient in-building or wide-area coverage necessary to provide adequate response during emergencies."

"In particular," says the FCC of the state's petition,"the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department’s communications suffer from lack of interoperability with local police departments and insufficient coverage in rail stations and tunnels."

Broadcasters are concerned about a push by computer and wireless companies to use spectrum currently and prospectively occupied by broadcasters, but they also recognize the concerns of emergency communicators.

"The television broadcast industry has a long history of working with public safety officials, "says David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, the broadcast industry's spectrum-management watchdog. "For example, through the Media Security and Reliability Council, (MSRC) we have worked closely with public-safety officials establishing communication plans and protocols for emergency situations. And first informers during disasters often work closely with public-safety officials. Accordingly, we look forward to examining the engineering studies and working with public-safety officials in a constructive manner.

"Obviously," says Donovan, "public safety raises vastly different, and frankly more important, public-policy considerations than interference from commercial entities."