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TWO TRADE ASSOCIATIONS RESPOND TO FBI NOTICE ON CALEA TERMS

Two trade associations have responded to an FBI notice seeking clear definitions of the terms “significant upgrade” and “major modification” that are used in the 1994 digital wiretap law to determine if carriers are responsible for the cost of upgrading their networks to meet FBI wiretapping requirements.

Under the law, known officially as the Communications Assistance and Law Enforcement Act, telecom carriers that deploy systems after Jan. 1, 1995, or perform major upgrades to existing systems after that date are not eligible to be reimbursed for costs associated with CALEA compliance.

That means new PCS licensees have to cover expenses for incorporating software and hardware into their networks that meet FBI eavesdropping requirements. It also means cellular carriers that convert from analog to digital technology after January 1995 have to pay for wiretap modifications.

In its response, the Telecommunications Industry Association said cost alone should not be the criteria for a major modification or a significant upgrade. Only fundamental, major changes in capabilities of the switch should remove the grandfather status of equipment.

TIA reasoned that carriers could perform a straight addition to a switch and therefore have a costly upgrade but stay within the capabilities of the basic call processing software of the switch. Modern switches can be improved gradually. In that case, said TIA, there is no “modification” to the software of the type conceived by Congress that should strip that system of its eligibility status for reimbursement.

The Personal Communications Industry Association proposed only changes that alter the fundamental call processing capabilities of the existing telecommunications equipment or service should be included in the definitions. Any upgrade or modification involving technology commercially available before Jan. 1, 1995, should be automatically exempt from these definitions regardless of the implementation date, said PCIA.

“Clearly defined terms are critical,” said Mary Madigan, PCIA’s director of external affairs. “Those definitions will determine who receives cost reimbursement under CALEA.”

Congress in September agreed to deposit $60 million into a trust fund to reimburse wireless and wireline carriers for making digital wiretap network modifications. CALEA was authorized at $500 million for fiscal years 1995-1998, but had never received any money. After the start-up $60 million infusion for fiscal 1997, CALEA will get monies from unobligated, year-end funds from intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

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