News Details

County Calls Upon FCC To Stop Public Safety Communications Interference Caused by Digital TV

(Clatyon, NJ) - Today the Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders were joined by US Congressman Robert E. Andrews and public safety representatives to call upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to cease digital television transmissions (DTV) on channels that cause interference with public safety communications, freeze future licensing on DTV channels and to provide federal funding to help build a 700 MHz communications system that averts interference.

"We have been putting band-aids on a very serious public safety issue that has been caused by the FCC and that can be alleviated by the FCC," stated Gloucester County Freeholder Director Stephen M. Sweeney.

During certain weather events where interference from certain television stations in Connecticut, North Carolina or Massachusetts disrupts the emergency communications system. "Before the switch to DTV this was more of a nuisance, but now we are at a point where a dispatcher will have to move radio operations to another channel that is not experiencing interference a couple of times of month. This leaves a dangerous lapse in communications between our dispatchers and our first responders," stated Tom Butts, Gloucester County Emergency Response Coordinator.

With DTV and the public safety radio on the 500MHz bandwidth, the system is saturated.

"We are calling upon the FCC to make public safety a priority on the bandwidth or to provide the funding to build a new communications system," said Sweeney noting that FCC is aware of the issue and that counties in South Jersey has had many communications dating back to 2002 when the FCC began testing DTV.

"Our safety and security requires that first responders have a dedicated frequency that's free from interference," said Congressman Andrews. "Common sense dictates that the FCC should pay for it and the reality is that South Jersey local governments just don't have the funds to switch to new airwaves."

Freeholder Deputy Director Bob Damminger said the FCC should have anticipated these issues which rarely occurred under analog television transmissions.

"One moment in time without communications could create a dangerous situation. Both the public safety communications and the television stations are operating within their licenses, but public safety has got to come first. If the FCC isn't going to stop the television stations from using a bandwidth that interferes with emergency communications, then the federal government should be funding a new system that alleviates the interference."

The FCC has dedicated frequencies within the 700MHz bandwidth for public safety communications. This will require large amounts of fiscal capital with conservative estimates of 20 million dollars to effect this change in Gloucester County. Current FCC policy does not allow for a gradual development of the system as in years past.