Senator Weighs in on 700 MHz Interference at Mexican Border Affecting Public Safety
Friday, August 30, 2019 | Comments

Sen. Ted Cruz stepped in on the issue of 700 MHz interference with public-safety communications networks at the Mexican border. The senator sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo requesting their quick attention to Altán Redes (Altán), which plans to begin operations of its wholesale wireless 700 MHz network in Mexico.

Altán is a private Mexican company that operates Red Compartida, a wholesale 700 MHz mobile broadband network that aims to increase the coverage of Long Term Evolution (LTE) services to at least 92.2% of the Mexican population. Red Compartida is developed through a public-private partnership (PPP) with the government of Mexico.

In May, Airbus launched MXLINK, a secure mobile virtual network operator (SMVNO) for Mexican public-safety and defense authorities. Airbus said MXLINK takes advantage of the deployment of Red Compartida for a reliable, secure, high-quality service for members of public-safety organizations.

A letter from Cruz said Altán’s service will cause harmful interference to existing U.S. networks, including those used by federal and local law enforcement, hospitals, the military and local governments.

Cruz said the University Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, where more than 10 people injured in the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart Aug. 3 were being treated, nearly lost wireless service Aug. 5 because of testing Altán conducted in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city across the border from El Paso. The testing also negatively affected connectivity for the city of El Paso’s fire and rescue services, including network-connected defibrillators and other equipment in ambulances that communicate to the hospitals receiving the patients. Cruz also cited a loss of network coverage for critical equipment in El Paso Police Department patrol cars.

Cruz also said the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which operates in the 700 MHz band, could be negatively impacted if Altán proceeds with full operations.

“I ask you to make clear to the relevant Mexican authorities — at the highest levels — that a mutually satisfactory solution must be found before Mexico allows Altán to begin operations,” Cruz said.

In response, Pai said he spoke Aug. 19 to his counterpart in Mexico, Chairman Gabriel Contreras Saldívar of the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT), about the issue and explained that even limited operations by Altán to date had caused interference, including to public-safety communications. Pai said he had spoken to another Mexican office, and his staff also worked on the issue. The FCC has been engaged, in coordination with the State Department and IFT, in crafting a revised protocol to govern use of the 700 MHz band across the border, since Mexico chose to implement an incompatible 700 MHz band plan.

“Based on that extensive groundwork, we believed that there was a path forward that accommodated both robust U.S. carrier operations and the deployment of Altán's network in that band,” Pai said in a response letter to Cruz. “… Given the promising exchanges on a revised protocol, it was a shock to learn at the 11th hour that Altán unilaterally decided to turn on its network at a time and in a manner that would directly and foreseeably cause harmful interference to U.S. cellular carriers and their customers who rely on them on a daily basis. Once we learned of this, we immediately contacted and shared the limited information we had with all domestic carriers potentially affected by Altán's initiation of service, as well as the State Department.

“While I unfortunately cannot tell you that this situation has been resolved, I want you to know that the FCC will continue to make every effort to ensure that the negative consequences of Altán's decision do not come to pass.”

"This matter is one between countries and not between carriers, so it is a topic for the government agencies," an Altán spokesperson said in response to a request for comment. "In any case, Altán is deploying and operating its network in strict compliance with the obligations of its concession and the radiation protocols in force with the United States."

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