A new FCC plan to build a emergency communications system robust enough to let local police and fire departments talk to the FBI and other federal officials has TV stations under more pressure than ever to exit their old analog channels.
The FCC has asked public safety officials across the country whether, in case of terrorist attack or other disaster, they need more channels than the four they are currently slated to get as a result of TV stations transitioning to digital.
The FCC suggested that adding a few more channels to the mix would enable a radio system hearty enough to accommodate local officials as well as the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and area hospitals.
To alleviate overcrowded conditions on emergency radio bands, the FCC already plans to turn chs. 63, 64, 68 and 69 solely to public safety departments when broadcasters go all-digital. Emergency departments can use the channels now, but only if they don’t cause interference to TV stations.
Public safety officials are asking the FCC to relax that interference protection. Broadcasters fear the move is designed to create so much airwave clutter that they’ll want to leave the channels long before the digital transition is complete.
Public safety officers have aligned with wireless operators like Qualcomm to reduce broadcasters’ interference protections on the channels TV is giving up. Qualcomm plans to use ch. 55, to which it bought the rights at auction in 2003 for MediaFlo, a cellphone video service.