U.S. Plans New Cellular System.


Mar 11, 2001
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U.S. Plans New Cellular System.

Associated Press

2:05 p.m. Oct. 11, 2001 PDT.
WASHINGTON -- The White House plans to give emergency crews and government officials priority on the nation's cellular telephone system in an effort to ensure service for authorities during a crisis.

Cellular phone use overwhelmed wireless networks in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, and prevented some police and officials from making critical calls.

Richard Clarke, the president's cybersecurity adviser, said Thursday he does not want that to happen again.

"It is essential that we work with industry to deploy priority access service for use in crisis situations as soon as possible," Clarke said. When lines are congested, less than 5 percent of cellular calls sometimes go through, he said.

Cellular towers have a fixed number of wireless telephone lines. When those are full, the system puts new callers in line on a first-come, first-served basis.

The new system would let those with special priority access codes jump ahead. Government officials said some priority users would be ranked higher than others, allowing calls to 911 to get through.

The idea had languished for years with little federal support, but gained momentum after the attacks. Cellular companies decided at a meeting two weeks after the attacks that the industry could start setting up the priority system immediately.

"The wireless industry stands united in the support of our nation's security and public safety objectives," said Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade group. "We look forward to the challenge ahead."

The plan calls for space for 500 priority users in two months, and 50,000 by year's end.

No new phones are needed. Instead, users would punch in a special code followed by a personal identification number.

Taxpayers will cover the cost; no price has been mentioned.

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