TR Daily Carriers Say They Want to Combat Contraband Cellphones
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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Carriers Say They Want to Combat Contraband Cellphones

Wireless carriers said today they are committed to working on solutions to combat contraband cellphones in correctional facilities.

Earlier this week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged carriers to become more active in addressing the problem, suggesting that they “have largely remained on the sidelines” (TR Daily, Feb. 5), but today, he praised them.

Mr. Pai convened a meeting today with carriers, state and federal representatives, law enforcement and corrections officials, and others to discuss ways to tackle contraband cellphones in prisons and jails, which can pose a danger to correctional authorities and people outside facilities. The meeting was closed to the news media.

“We strongly support the FCC's effort to help battle the illegal use of contraband phones in correctional facilities,” said William Johnson, senior vice president-federal regulatory and legal affairs for Verizon Communications, Inc. “Verizon looks forward to working closely with the FCC, corrections officials, vendors, and other stakeholders to test and develop new solutions, such as cell detection and jamming systems, to address the real problem of inmates unlawfully using contraband devices in ways that put the lives of correctional officers and others at risk. Correctional facilities have been frustrated with the costs of solutions offered to date so we need to get to work to test and try alternative ways to address the problem.”

Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive vice president-regulatory & state external affairs, said, “AT&T fully supports Chairman Pai’s efforts to find technology solutions to combat the use of contraband phones in prisons. The possession of contraband wireless devices by prisoners poses a great threat to public safety and the corrections community. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in today’s meeting and we are committed to continuing our work with law enforcement, prison solutions vendors and the wireless community to address this pernicious problem. AT&T stands ready to support technology trials and join with the corrections community to test technology solutions including managed access, cell detection devices and precision jammers.”

“T-Mobile supports the FCC’s multi-stakeholder approach to identify and implement meaningful, timely solutions to the threat posed by contraband devices in correctional facilities,” said Steve Sharkey, vice president-government affairs/technology and engineering policy for T-Mobile US, Inc.

Asked for comment on today’s meeting, CTIA released the same statement is put out earlier this week in response to Mr. Pai’s criticism of carriers. “CTIA and its members recognize the very real threat that contraband devices pose in correctional facilities across the nation, and we appreciate the commitment of all stakeholders to identify and implement lawful solutions to this problem,” the trade group said. “CTIA commends the FCC for convening this week’s meeting and appreciates Chairman Pai’s leadership on this issue.”

In a statement released after today’s meeting, Mr. Pai commended wireless carriers.

“The illegal use of wireless devices in prisons is a major threat to the safety and welfare of correctional facility employees, other inmates, and the public. This must change, and fast,” he said. “The FCC can’t meet this difficult challenge alone. I’m grateful to our federal partners at the Justice Department and Commerce Department, state correction officials, solutions providers, wireless carriers, and public safety experts for their participation in this important discussion.

“Our goal in convening this meeting was to bring together a diverse group to determine the most effective, affordable, and safe ways to address this problem — that is, to stop the threat of contraband cellphones without causing harm to legitimate wireless users,” Mr. Pai added. “Today’s attendees showed a willingness to take active roles in helping us find a path forward. I’m particularly pleased that the wireless industry committed to taking on a more meaningful role. For instance, they’ve shown a willingness to work with government officials to test possible technological solutions and to participate in a task force that will continue today’s conversation with aggressive but achievable deadlines. The bottom line is that we made some progress, but all of us have much more work to do. I’m committed to actively working with all stakeholders going forward to combat this public safety threat.”

Representatives of two vendors told TR Daily late this afternoon that they were pleased with today’s meeting.

“I think it was a good meeting,” said Markie Britton, manager-corporate communications for Tecore Networks, which manufactures equipment to target contraband devices. “Of course, nothing’s going to be solved over one meeting.”

She said the session “was a very good follow-up” to a meeting held in March 2017, adding that it gave correctional officials and others a chance “to actually ask all the questions that they need to in an open setting.” She said that all of the “cellular interdiction technologies” were discussed, including jamming.

Howard Melamed, president of CellAntenna Corp., which also makes equipment targeting contraband devices, including jamming gear, said that Mr. Pai “is being proactive trying to push all parties to come to a common decision in the fight against illegal cellphones.”

He said that CTIA offered “cooperation,” and said that he thinks that “a lot of people at the meeting came with the impression that jamming could be accomplished at low cost. … My main focus was that given the choice between jamming and managed access, we need to choose managed access.”

Only federal entities may legally use jamming equipment in the U.S.

“I also stated that American companies met the challenge of the CTIA and the FCC on coming up with solutions that don’t jam,” Mr. Melamed added. “Now is the time to deploy these systems throughout prison facilities with financial help from the federal government to solve cell phone problems today and [in] the future.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

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