WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission last week took the first step in efforts aimed at allowing U.S. citizens traveling abroad to carry handsets for global mobile personal communications services into foreign countries. Some countries today either confiscate or impose large import duties on these devices.

More than 80 different parties-at least 40 countries and 40 private entities-have signed an international memorandum of understanding that eventually will allow the free global use of these devices. The FCC’s action last week is the initial step in implementing the international agreement, said Thomas Tycz, chief of the FCC’s satellite and radio communication division.

The proposed rules establish a set of certification criteria that mesh with current rules and a set of specific out-of-band emission proposals that are being considered separately by the FCC.

The FCC expects to fully implement these proposed rules in time for companies like Iridium L.L.C. to being offering service this fall. The FCC’s International Bureau will continue to draft proposals to implement fully the Global Mobile Personal Communications for Satellite arrangements.

The proposed rules were included in a comprehensive notice of proposed rule making intended to speed the equipment-approval process here and abroad. The NPRM was adopted by unanimous voice vote last Thursday at the FCC’s May meeting.

Another portion of the same NPRM implements a mutual recognition agreement with the European Community that the United States expects to sign this week.

Under the pact, products may be tested by private bodies in the United States for compliance with the technical requirements of EC-member countries. Compliant equipment then may be approved for sale in the EC, with no further certification activity required. In return, the agreement allows private parties in the EC to test and approve equipment for compliance with the United States’ regulations.

CMRS Competition Report

The FCC also last week at its open meeting adopted the “Third Annual Commercial Mobile Radio Service Competition Report.” The report is the third since passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and examines the state of competition in the wireless industry from the consumer’s perspective. Previous CMRS competition reports have been “cited extensively” by Wall Street, said FCC Chairman William Kennard.

In adopting the report by unanimous voice vote, all commissioners noted the wireless industry is strongly competitive. The wireless industry “serves a wonderful role as being the standard bearer of what this country is trying to achieve in the telecommunications marketplace,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Powell. The report is indicative of the advancement of competition in all of the sectors of the telecom market, not just the CMRS industry, added FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.

However, the actual report is not available yet.

Telecom Relay Services

Finally, in other action, the FCC is proposing rules to implement fully the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 with respect to telecommunications relay services. The rules are expected to strengthen the program in place today by improving speed-of-answer rules. The FCC also is mandating all telecom carriers, including wireless service providers, offer so-called speech-to-speech services for people with speech disabilities.

TRS and speech-to-speech allow the disabled community to communicate with those using voice telephones.

The rules do not require video relay interpreting but do provide funding if telecom carriers want to implement VRI. VRI uses videoconferencing equipment to allow people with hearing disabilities to communicate by sign language to the communications assistant who relays the conversation. All of these services would be funded out of the existing TRS Fund, although the FCC expects additional financing from carriers may be necessary.


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