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Priority access in pilot plan for wireless

VoiceStream Wireless and the National Communications System tentatively agree to conduct a pilot program for telephone calls from emergency workers.

VoiceStream Wireless and the National Communications System have tentatively agreed to conduct a pilot program that guarantees wireless telephone calls from emergency workers will get through during chaotic events.

But their plans are stalled until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) makes a ruling on a related matter. The ruling has yet to be announced, an FCC spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The tentative agreement is a step toward meeting the White House's demand in the wake of the events of Sept. 11 to provide an immediate way for emergency workers to communicate during times of crisis.

In the hours after the terrorist attacks, with most of the New York landline system in tatters, nearly every cellular network was filled to capacity and millions of calls were blocked. Some of the highest-ranking federal officials couldn't make calls.

A few days after the attacks, the White House asked wireless carriers to make available in three months a priority access service in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. But it has taken so long to create the service that Salt Lake City has been ruled out of the trial now that the Olympics have ended, NCS spokesman Steve Barrett said.

The pilot program too is at a standstill. VoiceStream needs a waiver of certain FCC rules and regulations. The approval has yet to come, according to an FCC spokeswoman.

A VoiceStream spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Barrett would not reveal how VoiceStream plans to augment its network to provide priority access, but he said the NCS hopes to have a system in place by year's end.

The pilot program will take place in New York and Washington, D.C., according to Barrett.