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Emergency network fixes not dialed in

A Los Angeles police officer speaks on a radio during an evacuation exercise.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Kevin Martin doesn't have quite the name recognition of that guy who runs the Federal Reserve. But he's in charge of a pretty important group of his own. He's the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Martin gave a speech today in Baltimore, MD. The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials is having its annual meeting there. And Martin gave them an update on the status of something that's been keeping everybody in their line of work pretty busy: a massive re-tooling of the emergency radio network. Marketplace's Lisa Napoli has more.


Lisa Napoli: Everyone who's used a mobile or cordless phone has had the problem: interrupted service of some sort or another. It's a nuisance for you, but it's been a bane of the emergency service workers' existence for a few years now.

Corey Boles: I've talked to cops who are out on the beat, and they were pulling over a suspect who was wanted for any number of crimes. And all of a sudden, their radio just cut out and they couldn't get back in touch with the base.

That's Corey Boles of Dow Jones Newswire. He's been covering the problem and what's being done to fix it by the company causing the biggest bandwidth bleed over, Sprint Nextel. They and the FCC agreed a couple years ago that the cell-phone provider would spend $5 billion to straighten things out.

The work has been underway for a couple of years now, but Allan Caldwell of the International Association of Fire Chiefs says:

Allan Caldwell: We have not made as much progress as we had originally anticipated.

Everyone knew it would be a big project, but just how big has been confounding.

Steve Proctor: Well, I've often compared this effort to having to redesign the wings of the airplane while it's still flying.

Steve Proctor is with the Utah Communications Agency Network.

Proctor: You have to touch every repeater, every hand-held portable radio or mobile radio in order to retune those radios.

That's millions of them across the country.

Earlier this summer, Commissioner Martin nudged the parties involved to pick up the pace. And if they don't, he could soon step in and force them to.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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