Bill mandates U.S. cellular tech for postwar Iraq

Bill mandates U.S. cellular tech for postwar Iraq

Acting on reports that the Defense Department wants to build a wireless communications infrastructure in postwar Iraq that follows the Global System for Mobile Communications standard, a California congressman has launched his own pre-emptive strike. He has introduced a bill that would require American communications technology.

GSM, developed in Europe, is the dominant cellular technology there. In the United States, Code Division Multiple Access is the most common type of service, although GSM is growing here.

'If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell phone system would be manufactured in France, Germany and elsewhere in western and northern Europe,' Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote yesterday to Wendy J. Chamberlain, an assistant administrator in the Agency for International Development.

'U.S.-developed CDMA technology is widely recognized as technically superior to European GSM,' Issa wrote.

To ensure that the European standard is not used in Iraq, Issa on Wednesday introduced HR 1441, which would give preference to U.S. companies for any Iraq reconstruction work and would require CDMA technology for any cellular infrastructure.

'If U.S. taxpayers are going to be gifting billions of dollars in technology and infrastructure to the Iraqi people, we ought to make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that those expenditures also benefit the American people and the American economy,' Issa said in a statement.

A spokesman for Issa said Chamberlain had confirmed that DOD requested GSM be specified in a request for proposals for reconstruction work, which could be issued as early as next week. He said Issa did not know for sure why that standard was requested.

'Our understanding is, it appealed to DOD because it is easier to eavesdrop on,' said Issa's chief of staff, Dale Neugebauer. The encryption is 'an easier nut to crack,' he said.

A spokesman for USAID said discussions on the specifics of rebuilding projects in Iraq are classified, but added that "when it comes to technology, USAID is completely neutral. A decision on which technology is going to be used will be made by the appropriate agency. Our goal during the reconstruction process in Iraq is to provide a telephone system that is reliable and broadly accessible."

According to British analysts at Ovum Holdings Ltd., GSM is the dominant cellular technology in Iraq's neighboring countries.

'The Europeans have acted collectively to lock the U.S. out of Europe,' Neugebauer said. 'Just because they have conspired to keep us out doesn't mean we should accede.'

The bill has been referred to the House International Relations and Armed Services committees.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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