Howard Melamed | Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field

Howard Melamed, CEO, CellAntenna Corp.

Howard Melamed, CEO, CellAntenna Corp.

Courtesy photo

Like many small-business owners, Howard Melamed, CEO of CellAntenna Corp., is learning the federal contracting ropes and wants to get on the General Services Administration schedule.

The problem for the Coral Springs, Fla., cellular antenna and repeaters developer is that being innovative means taking on the Federal Communications Commission and the Homeland Security Department.

Melamed believes that state and local government agencies, and in particular police bomb squads, should be allowed to buy the same signal-jamming technology and equipment used by the military and other federal agencies to cripple remote-control explosive devices and to control communications. But the Federal Communications Act of 1934 restricts interference with radio signals, which is how jamming works, to use by the federal government only. Melamed wants DHS and FCC to change the law to let state and local agencies buy and use jamming equipment. To force a change, Melamed is suing FCC in U.S. District Court and asking for a declaratory judgment.

He recently spoke with Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield about radio frequency and cell phone jamming, CellAntenna's business goals and his battle with FCC.

WT: Why is jamming communications useful in emergencies?

Melamed: They can be used for everything from bombings and hostage negotiations to correctional facilities.

The use to prevent a terrorist bomb is pretty obvious; you see a bag sitting there with an antenna sticking out of it, and you want some jamming device in the area to prevent somebody from arming and exploding it.

If a hostage-taker has a cell phone, he has many ways to communicate with the outside world. Every negotiator will tell you that the only way you can get the situation under control is by getting the hostage-taker to get on one line with you.
The No. 1 problem today in correctional facilities worldwide is that inmates are using cell phones to communicate with the outside world. So the drug lords that they put away are still handling their business affairs.

WT: Do you sell jamming technology and equipment to the federal government?

Melamed: Yes, but not on a big scale.

WT: Do you sell to foreign governments and their militaries?

Melamed: We've been asked to price equipment and have done so. But we have not sold any [jamming] equipment to foreign governments. It's a new field, and we now have offices in London and Warsaw, Poland.

WT: Do foreign governments typically have similar rules banning the use of jamming technology for nonfederal organizations?

Melamed: No. Only a few countries have these rules. Canada and the United Kingdom have similar rules to the United States.

WT: Why would state and local law enforcement agencies be interested in jamming devices?

Melamed: Terrorism has no geographical boundaries, and eventually it will come here. [State and local law enforcement] know they need the tools to defend against it. The wrong time to get the tools will be after people die or a bomb goes off.

WT: How much potential business do you estimate that private industry has lost because of federal regulations restricting jamming sales?

Melamed: Billions of dollars. And it's U.S. companies that are losing out, because this stuff is still being produced in other countries that have a free hand to develop [jamming technology]. We can develop for the federal government, but there are so many limitations on who we can sell to that it has prevented enterprises that can develop this stuff from really investing in it.

WT: Why are you suing FCC?

Melamed: I'm doing this because I'm really frightened about this stuff. Yes, my company can benefit if they change the laws, but jamming is protection. It protects the [cellular] industry in longevity. Can you imagine what would happen if cell-phone bombs started going off around the country? Are they going to shut down the cell towers like they stopped planes from flying for two weeks [after Sept. 11t, 2001]? This is the No. 1 communications device. We've got to keep it safe.

WT: What do you hope the outcome of your lawsuit will be?

Melamed: I want the judge to rule that bomb squads should have jamming equipment. Common sense should prevail here.

Even if the judge limits it to the bomb squads or first responders, then we have a win here, not for me but for the government and for everyone.

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