Delays, costs could dial back revamp of San Francisco police, fire radios 

A federally mandated reprogramming of radio frequencies used by police and firefighters in San Francisco is threatened by delays and extra costs that could impact “the safety and security of residents,” according to a recent contract waiver sent out for work on the project.

A specific band of radio frequencies in the 800 MHz range was once set aside for cellphone use. But public safety agencies were also assigned a block of frequencies that were mixed in with  frequencies used for private telecommunications.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Nextel, which has since merged with Sprint, bought thousands of individual licenses for frequencies between 851 and 866 MHz.

At that frequency range, radio traffic from firefighters and police was often disrupted by private communications.

The Federal Communications Commission has required that all those frequencies be rebanded across the nation. In San Francisco, the rebanding planning process started in 2007 and was supposed to be completed this month.

The Police Department’s radios have already been switched over, but other work needs to be done.

Earlier this month, the Department of Technology asked the Civil Service Commission for a waiver to spend $6 million extra to bring in a contractor to finish the work. The City originally had a $1.1 million contract with an outside agency to help the Department of Technology complete the project.

Sprint is expected to reimburse the extra costs, according to Department of Technology spokesman Ron Vinson.

Sprint, however, won’t just hand over a blank check for added expenses. The City must negotiate any changes to the original contract with Sprint, according to John Taylor, a spokesman for Sprint Nextel.

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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Brent Begin

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