IM this article to a friend!

June 4, 2004

Disability group backs Cingular/AWS merger

From: RCR Wireless News - Jun 4, 2004

June 04, 2004 12:50 PM EST

WASHINGTON—Cingular Wireless L.L.C's proposed $41 billion purchase of AT&T Wireless Services Inc. picked up support from a leading disability organization, but the deal continues to be dogged by a group that claims Cingular exaggerated the impact of cell-alert technology on its mobile-phone networks to federal regulators.

The Cingular-AT&T Wireless merger—a combination of the No. 2 and No. 3 mobile-hone carriers that consumer advocates oppose—is being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department. Despite that opposition and other issues raised in connection with the merger, government officials are expected to give their blessing to the transaction before the end of the year. That would enable Cingular Wireless to surpass Verizon Wireless as the nation's top mobile-phone operator.

Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, which has sparred with the wireless industry over hearing-aid compatibility in recent years, said Cingular has supported efforts to address technological barriers to people with hearing loss. SHHH said nearly all Cingular handsets are TTY compatible, and 711 access to relay services are available.

However, SHHH added that Cingular has not made as much progress making available phones that do not cause a loud buzzing noise when held near hearing aids. The FCC last year voted to require 25 percent of wireless handsets provided by mobile-phone carriers to be hearing-aid compatible by September 2005 and 50 percent by February 2008.

"The merger could potentially enable Cingular to have more influence on the development of accessible handsets as they will have much greater buying power," Terry Portis, executive director of SHHH, told the FCC.

Meanwhile, the Cellular Emergency Alert Systems Association, said Cingular's assertion that cell broadcast technology would reduce network capacity by a factor of between 12.5 percent to 25 percent is overstated and misconstrued.

"The impact figures offered by Cingular arguments do not reflect standard network configurations," CEASA told the FCC.

The group said cell broadcast would not congest the network as would wireless emergency notifications sent to citizens using short message service technology. CEASA wants the FCC to condition any approval of the Cingular-AT&T Wireless merger on guaranteeing the availability of the spectrum's cell broadcast channel for government-to-citizen communications.

While major U.S. mobile-phone carriers have resisted endorsing a market-based cell broadcast solution for emergency alerts, the international community appears to be warming to the technology.

Roland De Stickere, chief of security and safety at the United Nations office in Geneva, last October said GSM cell broadcast technology "offers a resource for immediate mass communications to selected groups … [that] is not currently being provided by existing technologies."

Last Friday, Mark Wood, chief technology advisor to CEASA and a former L. M. Ericsson training consultant, said cell-alert service will be fully covered in the International Telecommunication Union's emergency communications handbook published by the United Nations for distribution this summer.

© 2004 Crain Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.