Wireless priority system nears

Less than a month after top government officials began pushing for a priority wireless system for use during emergencies, Verizon Wireless appears to be on the verge of installing the system in selected cities.

As soon as the deal is done, Verizon Wireless will begin installing the proposed priority system in those cities, which according to published reports are New York City, Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City, the host of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The new priority access system will be part of the White House's National Communications System and eventually will be expanded nationwide.

The initial system would help up to 2,000 federal, state and local officials make wireless telephone calls in emergencies, said Betsy Flood, a spokeswoman for the Defense Information Systems Agency Nov. 6, confirming earlier reports by Reuters and the Associated Press.

The service could be deployed within 60 days if all technical, operational and implementation considerations are met, Flood said.

Verizon had issued a statement Nov. 5 that said the deal was not yet done.

"We are currently in discussions with the federal government about providing priority access to emergency workers during times of a national emergency," according to the statement from Verizon, the nation's largest wireless telephone company. "Some media reports suggesting a deal has been struck between Verizon Wireless and the government, however, are premature. Our hope is to reach an agreement with the government and to resolve technological and regulatory issues soon."

The terrorist attacks Sept. 11 caused immense congestion on wireless networks in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas that morning and underlined the need for the priority network to be up and running as soon as possible, Richard Clarke, special adviser to the president for cyberspace security, said last month.

"It is essential that we work with industry to deploy priority access service for use in crisis situations as soon as possible," Clarke said at the time.

At the Milcom conference last week, DISA director Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege Jr. said the wireless priority system was a "national priority" and would be used to aid emergency response efforts in selected cities. The government already has a priority system for landline communications: the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service, which worked effectively in the aftermath of Sept. 11, said Raduege, who also is manager of the National Communications System.

Flood said the goal is to implement the proposed wireless system in the same way as GETS, where government workers would be given a code and be categorized for priority access.

The Verizon Wireless statement said the company recognizes "that the government needs an industrywide priority access solution" and that Verizon is committed to implementing one.

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