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Cell Phone Priority Use Considered

November 6, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Verizon Wireless and the government are in the final stages of a deal that would give some emergency officials priority access to the company’s cellular network, according to federal officials.

The system, intended to be used only in times of crisis, would be operational in New York, Washington and Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Verizon has submitted a request to the Federal Communications Commission, which must review and approve some elements of the plan.

In a statement Monday, Verizon acknowledged the deal, but said it is not yet final.

``Some media reports suggesting a deal has been struck between Verizon Wireless and the government, however, are premature,″ the company said. ``Our hope is to reach an agreement with the government and to resolve technological and regulatory issues soon.″

Under the agreement, about 2,000 federal, state and local officials would be given a code that allows them priority over other people trying to make calls, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Others trying to make calls could get busy signals because of the plan.

FCC spokesman David Fiske said the deal reflected the Bush administration’s desire for more reliability.

``I think there is room for improvement,″ He said. ``And that was true even before Sept. 11,″ the day of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The deal is being negotiated by the Bush administration’s National Communications System, an agency charged with pursuing communications issues involving national security. Plans for some sort of priority access for emergency officials were already in the works, but the attacks prompted the administration to move more quickly, Fiske said.

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