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Near Quantico, A Click, but Garage Door Doesn't Budge

Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base.
Queen Carroll of Dale City had to buy a new garage door opener because the radio signal the old one used was overridden by signals from the Quantico Marine base. "I feel there should be some kind of compensation," she said. (By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Since the years preceding World War II, the military has held a portion of the radio spectrum in reserve, from 138 to 450 megahertz. That part was borrowed by remote control manufacturers with the understanding that the signal be weak enough to be overridden by the military.

The reserve frequencies became active after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when officials discovered 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 system has been slowly put into place at military installations across the country.

Carroll, who has lived in the same house for 28 years, less than 10 miles from the base, understands very well the needs of the military. She worked at Quantico for years, and her husband, Eddie, who died three years ago, spent 29 years in Army intelligence. "I'm always pro-government," she said. "But I feel very strongly that if this is something that is happening to seniors in the area, it may seem like a small amount of money to the government, but it is a lot to me."

There seems to be no pattern as to whose garage doors are blocked. Carroll does not know of any other people in her neighborhood who have had problems. Garage door manufacturers have said that an estimated 50 million remotes could be affected.

For Carroll, getting out of her car to open and close the garage door was not only an inconvenience but also a matter of security if she was coming home at night. She also heard a rumor that the military radio signal has played havoc with garage doors, opening and closing them at all hours of the day and night. It didn't happen to her door, but she has heard about it from other seniors who told her it has tormented others. There is even talk on suburban streets that the military signal can pop open car trunks, which isn't true.

"People in surrounding areas might experience interference with their wireless garage door openers," Donnelly said, "but should not experience unwanted garage door movement. They might not be able to use their remote controls, but their garage doors should not move up or down on their own."

Robert Paulus, service manager at Automatic Overhead Door Co. in Fredericksburg, which serves all of Northern Virginia, said that at the end of December, "everyone's range went out of whack." He said the company went out on more than 30 service calls. When some customers learned that the Marines might be to blame, they thought about trying to get some money out of Quantico's treasury. "I ran into a few of those, and I just told them, 'I wish you could do that, but good luck trying.' " The customers threw up their hands and opened their checkbooks.

In this case, the Marines own the airwaves.

"Consumer wireless devices, such as garage door openers, operate on an unlicensed basis, meaning they are required to accept any interference from licensed spectrum users, including the Department of Defense," Donnelly said.


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