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PARTIAL END TO LICENSE FREEZE DOESN’T PLEASE PAGING OPERATORS

WASHINGTON-Local and regional paging operators lambasted the Federal Communications Commission for declining to completely lift the three-month-old paging application freeze last week, and vowed to redouble lobbying efforts in hopes of getting legislation or persuading the agency to reconsider its action.

“This battle just started,” said Kevin O’Brien, president of O’Brien Communications, a wireless communications consulting firm in Annandale, Va.

O’Brien said the FCC “not only deceived the industry, but deceived the Hill” in granting only limited relief to most paging operators rather than the broader relief that he believed was forthcoming from the commission.

The issue has created a schism in the paging industry, one that PCIA can hardly afford given the stiff competition for broadband personal communications services membership from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association.

The FCC, which wants to craft rules to auction geographic-based paging licenses and at the same time prevent fraudulent application speculation during the rulemaking, stopped accepting applications on Feb. 8 from all paging carriers except those licensed to build nationwide networks.

A paging coalition of 180 companies that O’Brien helped organize to draw Congress’ attention to the issue, broke ranks with the Personal Communications Industry Association because of a view that nationwide paging members of PCIA compromised the trade group’s ability to aggressively fight against the paging freeze.

“That’s a cheap shot,” said Mark Golden, vice president of industry relations at PCIA.

The paging coalition’s intense lobbying prompted scores of lawmakers, chief among them Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), ranking minority member of the House Commerce panel, to protest against the paging freeze and demand its immediate removal.

Congress is not pleased with the ruling, according to sources, but is unlikely to react until the FCC formally responds to their inquiries.

PCIA President Jay Kitchen, while noting major issues remain, sounded an upbeat note following last week’s ruling.

“Taking into account where we were on Feb.8-a virtual standstill in business expansion for the majority of the paging industry-this is very close to returning to business as usual for incumbent carriers,” said Kitchen. “This should make for an instant surge in business activities for a lot of our companies.”

O’Brien, however, does not share that sentiment. The paging coalition wanted incumbent paging carriers to be able to add transmitters to expand systems within 75 miles of their existing facilities so long as applications are filed with the FCC prior to the release of the first paging auction notice.

Instead, the FCC limited paging operators to modifications within 40 miles of transmitters licensed and operational on Feb. 8.

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