Sign up today and save up to 83% on a Hartford Courant digital subscription
CT Now

Cellphones: Preserving a tool, combating a threat

In less than a generation, mobile communications have evolved from a luxury item to an essential element of everyday life. With nearly 7 billion devices in use, mobile communications are nearly ubiquitous, impacting the way we work and live throughout the world every day. As the use of mobile cellular communications continues to expand rapidly, the federal government and Maryland must continue to keep pace with emerging technologies and enact policies that better enable legitimate use of cellphones, while preventing their illegal use.

Businesses and individuals are using mobile communications to improve efficiency and get results even in some of the most remote places on Earth. In fact, a wireless network that was deployed last year in Alaska recently saved the lives of two fishermen stranded on a reef in a remote area on Yakutat Bay. While many people in urban areas take their cellular coverage for granted, for those in more out-of-the-way places, connectivity can be a matter of life and death.

Mobility communications have become far more than a business or personal tool. In many places today, mobile networks are helping to shape world events. At a pivotal point in the Arab Spring fight for liberation from Moammar Gadhafi, the dictator attempted to disable rebel communications by disconnecting the fiber that supported a large area of Libya. As a result, rebels were forced to use signal flags to communicate on the battlefield. However, within 72 hours, nearly 1 million users were brought back on line thanks to a transportable mobile network the size of a suitcase that was brought into the country.

The proliferation of mobile devices is fueled by the fundamental human need to communicate. And while serving this need on a global scale is critical to our economic recovery, in some cases it's essential that communication be captured or curtailed. Reports indicate that more than 1,300 contraband cellphones were found last fiscal year inside Maryland correctional facilities. More recently, according to federal indictments, a gang leader in Maryland was able to set up a lucrative smuggling operation from the Baltimore jail. He allegedly use multiple contraband cellphones to provide orders to subordinates and receive payments directly to his device while incarcerated. A total of 25 people were charged in the case, including 13 correctional officers.

This story is just one reminder that the use of contraband cellphones remains one of the most serious threats facing prisons in Maryland and across the nation. Through a program our company launched in Mississippi, over 3.5 million unauthorized calls have been prevented since the managed access system was deployed in 2010. This program has eliminated countless criminal conspiracies and threats to the community, and under our contract with Maryland — limited so far to one facility — the state is already seeing significant benefits. The Federal Communications Commission recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking recognizing the need to better enable sophisticated managed access solutions in prisons. This is both timely and welcome, as contraband cellphone use is not just a state and local issue but a national one.

Deploying managed access capabilities to prisons today is not without challenges. There is a considerable amount of regulatory red tape that must be overcome in order to sublease the needed licenses and comply with a host of other requirements. While it is very important to make sure that this solution does not affect citizens' legitimate use of their mobile phones, given the severity of the threat and the evolution of the technology, it makes good sense to streamline this process.

Maryland is on the right track in leading the nation in the deployment of "smart" networks within correctional facilities in densely populated urban areas and should expand the program statewide. Likewise, the FCC is right to consider cutting red tape to better facilitate the implementation of managed access solutions in prisons in the United States to improve public safety — without preventing a single legitimate call.

Ken North is vice president of Hanover-based Tecore Networks, an industry leader in design and deployment of scalable wireless infrastructure. His email is

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
Related Content
  • Jail romantics get a prison honeymoon [Letter]

    Jail romantics get a prison honeymoon [Letter]

    A corrections officer and a gang leader are headed back to the playland where their convoluted romance began ("Couple are sentenced in city jail scandal," Jan. 15). Taryn Kirkland, a corrections officer, had a tryst with Steven Loney, a Black Guerrilla Family leader. Now, ironically, they are headed...

  • Why the higher-ups at the Baltimore City jail got a pass

    Why the higher-ups at the Baltimore City jail got a pass

    I have no sympathy for Derrick Jones and other employees at The Baltimore City Detention Center who allowed themselves to be corrupted by the Black Guerrilla Family ("Jail supervisor, National Guardsman sentenced to 20 months in BGF case," Feb. 27).

  • Why did a judge praise BGF mastermind Tavon White?

    Why did a judge praise BGF mastermind Tavon White?

    Say What? According to The Sun's front-page story, "Ex-gang leader gets 12 years" (Feb. 10), a long-time Black Guerrilla Family leader found guilty of murder in 1997 and attempted murder in 2009 as well as initiating, orchestrating and recruiting inmates, guards and jail service workers to bring...

  • Overcrowding is the biggest problem at the jail [Letter]

    Overcrowding is the biggest problem at the jail [Letter]

    The recommendation of a Maryland legislative commission to spend $533 million to replace part of the Baltimore City Detention Center should not be a priority in fixing the problems at the jail. A far more important goal would be to reduce overcrowding at the jail more quickly ("Lawmakers call for...

  • Replace the jailers, not the jail [Letter]

    Replace the jailers, not the jail [Letter]

    In response to the article "Replace city jail, lawmakers urge" (Dec. 12), are they serious? Half a billion dollars to replace the jail?

  • New city jail won't solve everything [Letter]

    New city jail won't solve everything [Letter]

    To anyone with the gift of vision, it's obvious the Baltimore City Detention Center is an outdated building in every sense of the word ("Replace city jail, lawmakers urge," Dec. 12).

  • Will city jail scandal come back to haunt O'Malley in 2016? [Letter]

    Will city jail scandal come back to haunt O'Malley in 2016? [Letter]

    The sudden resignation of Gary D. Maynard as secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has huge implications both immediate as well as a few years down the road ("State public safety and corrections secretary stepping down," Dec. 10).

  • Fixing the jail [Editorial]

    Fixing the jail [Editorial]

    Our view: Legislative report offers valuable recommendations for improving security, but getting to the bottom of what went wrong is still important