The Washington Post has an interesting story of military abuse today: abuse of garage door openers. Seems a large number of folks living near the Quantico Marine base in eastern Virginia have found their garage door openers being rendered useless by a wireless signal coming from the base. And they aren't the first, the story says. Garage door openers have been zapped in other towns near military operations for a couple years now experts say.
For example, hundreds of people around an Air Force facility in Colorado Springs reported that their remotes died when the 21st Space Wing began testing a frequency that would be used for homeland security emergencies or threats. Residents near Fort Detrick in Maryland have also reported the problem.
And it's only likely to get worse. That's because many military installations are using the spectrum to facilitate communications between their operations and any civilian emergency personnel. Garage door manufacturers have said that an estimated 50 million remotes could ultimately be affected. From the Washington Post story: "Marine Corps Base Quantico transitioned to a new bandwidth for land mobile radios in 2005 as part of a government-mandated, Department of Defense-wide conversion to narrow-band systems from wide-band systems in military bases around the country," Lt. Brian P. Donnelly said. "The transition was made to foster more efficient spectrum use, allowing a variety of military and government organizations to better protect national security."
The story notes that the use of reserve frequencies became prevalent after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when officials found that first responders could not communicate with one another because they were operating radios on different frequencies. The Defense Department is using the mothballed frequencies in a system that eventually will link military and civilian emergency responders, the story said.
But the military warned this situation might occur. It said between now and 2008, the military is supplying a new radio system to roughly 125 bases that uses the same frequency as the one relied upon by more than 90% of the remotely operated openers, the Pentagon said. And the FCC issued this warning in 2005: Consumers near certain military installations have recently experienced interference to their garage door opener controls that may reduce the operating distance or cause the device to stop operating. This public notice is issued to explain the cause of the interference and the steps being taken to alleviate this problem. The vast majority of consumers will not experience any interference to their garage door opener controls. Garage door openers operate, legally at very low power on an "unlicensed basis," and have been permitted to operate on frequencies that have been reserved for the federal government since WWII for air/ground communications systems, but received limited use by the government for many years, the FCC said.
As unlicensed devices, there is no right to protection from interference. "The military radio signal is sometimes so strong that it overpowers the opener's signal, preventing the door from opening. Or it can also vastly reduce the opener's range, forcing the user to walk close to the garage before it will open. Unless another solution is reached, the consumer will either have to live with the inconvenience or pay to fix the problem," the Pentagon said. The cheapest fix would be to manually replace parts of the opener so it will use a different frequency or buy a newer system that uses a different frequency.