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O N L I N E  E X C L U S I V E

August 2011 Inbox

August 01, 2011

Following are comments we’ve received from readers about recent online and print news and articles. If you’d like to comment on an article, email edit@RRMediaGroup.com.
 
 
 
Editor:
 
This administration again shows us how anti-business it is. Why can't they get out of the way and let this country do business?
 
From the article: “The combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services,” said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole.
 
How does Cole know the future; that we would get higher prices and lower quality?
 
The DOJ also said, "... that AT&T could obtain substantially the same network enhancements that it claims will come from the transaction if it simply invested in its own network without eliminating a close competitor."
 
From what I have read during the past few months, AT&T is not "eliminating a competitor." T-Mobile was looking to sell; they had been looking for a buyer.
 
Dave Messinger
West Palm Beach, Fla.
  

 
In response to “DHS Announces $2.1B in 2011 Grant Allocations” from Aug. 24
 
Editor:
 
Please stop the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from spending millions of taxpayer's money on amateur radio systems. Within the past two or three years $500,000 in DHS funding has been spent on ham radio equipment in Indiana. Some ham radio operators in Indianapolis get money from local emergency operations centers (EOCs) to buy amateur radio equipment. It’s a gross misuse of funds for perhaps 12 ham operators who might help during a disaster. Instead of taking that money and buying a public-safety radio system, they buy equipment only a few people can use.
 
I have been a ham operator myself for more than 47 years but 92 percent of ham operators do not help during disasters, so please stop wasting our limited resources for a hobby gone bad.
 
Mike Townsend    
  

  
In response to “Motorola Responds to Standards Questions” from Aug. 31
 
Editor:
 
I am a federally certified service disabled veteran owned small business (SDVOSB) who has been in the two-way radio business for more than 33 years;15 years with Motorola government sales and the rest in my own business. I have complained many times to federal buyers about this disparity but in all cases of my complaining nothing has ever happened to change this.
 
Here is the reason why: The federal government developed interoperability standards for public-safety agencies more than 12 years ago and thus the Project 25 (P25) standard for radios was born. This requirement means that all federal agencies must buy P25 operational radios, hence the interoperability between agencies is made possible. A worthy goal. Any radio manufacturer that wants to sell to the federal government must have an FCC-certified P25 radio that meets these standards and most manufacturers have a P25 radio line that does this. This makes it possible for government agencies to buy any manufacturer’s P25 radio and it will work in the P25 system.
 
Motorola, on the other hand, figured a way to do away with the competition from other manufacturers by developing its proprietary digital ASTRO feature and its own encryption outside of the P25 standards. This means that when Motorola sells you a P25 radio and gets you to add/buy its ASTRO option or encryption option, you can’t use any other manufacturer’s P25 radio, losing the “interoperability” requirement of the P25 regulations and requirements. This was Motorola’s way of getting the lion’s share of the radio sales to the feds so that it had to be a sole source purchase because only Motorola radios would work in their system.
 
Bad news for the other manufacturers because they were automatically locked out and the Motorola dealers were barred from selling these units, so all purchases had to go to Motorola’s government department for purchase, often at full list price of $3,000 or more when they could have gotten them from other manufacturers for as little as $1,200 on a bid.
 
This whole thing means that the federal government agencies have completely side stepped their own P25 nationwide standards and requirements to allow Motorola to sell them a propriety system under the guise of them selling a P25 radio with the ASTRO or encryption proprietary option in it. The P25 standard calls for AES or DES encryption only, and no ASTRO type propriety technology is allowed.
 
There have been many documented cases of the Motorola radios not working in emergency situations due to their ASTRO proprietary system and people losing their lives, yet no one in the federal government or Motorola will admit it.
 
The only way to fix this is to enforce the P25 standard on all purchases, do away with the ASTRO operation and reconfigure the radios back to P25 interoperability and remove the requirement for city, county and state agencies to buy P25 radios when it is not mandated for them to by the FCC. The federal grants to these agencies require P25 radios to be purchased at $3,000 each when the standard analog radios they have been using for 50 years only cost $1,000.
 
Philip E. Williams
President
Williams USA
 
 
Editor:
 
The suite of Project 25 (P25) standards have been delayed, dragged out by bureaucratic processes, and have a low level of user input. Only about one and a half of the 10 or so standards have been completed after about 22 years of effort. The user needs documents are convoluted, have built-in conflicts, and often are not connected to the actual Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) standards that are produced at a snail’s pace. Confusion arises when the statement of requirements (SOR) from a small sliver of the user community is in contrast to the information brought to the table from the manufacturers who write the TIA documents. The manufacturers represent what their customers are saying in the TIA process, which may be either in conflict or direct contradiction with the SOR. The SOR may lay dormant for a while. The balloting process may or may not directly relate to the SOR, and in some cases the Compliance Assessment Program (CAP) process may or may not measure compliance or congruence to the SOR — a missing link in the feedback loop.
 
While user input is desired, it gets fairly technical, is time consuming, and often public-entity employers can’t let their personnel spend time (and sometimes travel) to attend and participate. If users want to participate in TIA committees, the attendance and voting rules make it tough to attend the required face-to-face meetings. Travel restrictions and the cost of travel prevent and suppress user input. Yes, there are teleconferences, but face to face is often a voting requirement.
 
The manufacturers, usually out of technical necessity, are the dominant role players on the TIA side of the equation. Some manufacturers have brought technical expertise, and some have even relinquished intellectual properties to expedite the standards process. Vendors have mentioned on more than one occasion that “their customers” want certain features, but those features are not found in the SOR. So the manufacturers claim to represent the users, but these comments may not always concur with the SOR.
 
If a manufacturer implements certain features of the plethora of P25 choices, and a few of those features become widely used in their implementations, that manufacturer can create a de facto standard that may prevent, or highly suppress, competition.
 
Here are two examples. (One has been somewhat resolved, the other not):
1. Proprietary simulcast: One manufacturer held intellectual properties on a certain type of simulcast technology. Other manufacturers used various methods of simulcast, but one was widely deployed. Radios not built by the dominant manufacturer would not perform properly on those systems resulting in poor receiver performance of the competitor subscriber radio. The dominant manufacturer relented, and released the intellectual properties so all manufacturers could use the dominant manufacturer’s method. Again, all of this is and was allowed under the banner of the so-called “standard.”
 
2. Proprietary encryption: One dominant manufacturer offers a fairly weak software-based form of encryption that can be easily loaded into its radio for about $10 per radio. It is so weak that the federal partners do not use it. The preferred high-level encryption required some hardware with secure software “key” loaded in. This stronger method can be built by all manufacturers. But the dominant manufacturer rolls out many statewide, countywide or regional systems with the less expensive proprietary encryption. System operators often “require” the proprietary encryption to the elimination of all competition. In one case, hospitals statewide are required to have the proprietary encryption for public health (privacy) reasons, which limits the sale of radios to hospitals to one brand. This same pattern holds true for certain specialty response teams, and in some cases, entire regions require the proprietary encryption to operate at all, thus locking out competition. The P25 standard allows for all of this, yet the “cheap and weak” encryption is not in the SOR as a requirement, but as an allowable option, but the manufacturer carries the water of their customers to keep using the proprietary encryption.
 
The dominant manufacturer can go down the vast list of proprietary features that are allowed within the P25 standard, and continue to exclude “Brand X radios on their large, often statewide, or contiguous state-to-state systems to methodically squeeze out competition. In states where the dominant manufacturer actually owns and operates the system, they can methodically exclude Brand X radios under the guise of system security, threat to grade of service, or complexity of system management.
 
There is no feedback loop to ensure that a requirement identified in the SOR (maybe written decades ago) makes it intact through the TIA process, balloting, out to CAP and back to the SOR. There are many variables, many flavors of the standard, proprietary allowable features, and no true definition of what a P25 system is, so it will be next to impossible to complete the remaining eight and a half standards.
 
The P25 process is dysfunctional at best, and often incoherent. We are seeing manufacturers place the P25-swirl logo on any piece of equipment, and they are “shake and bake” compliant in the eye of the unknowing customer. In some cases, an ecosystem may contain an apex predator like a Tyrannosaurus Rex – devouring all competition and ultimately going extinct itself. Because this is not a user-driven ecosystem, the welcomed competition will become lured-in victims, allowed to participate in the process but excluded from real competition. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the originators of P25 and TIA written in 1992 is being eroded, not followed, or considered inconsequential. But none of the players want to reopen it or rewrite it to reflect reality, or better yet, stop and make corrections to their actions where the MoU is actually on point and should be followed. Sometimes you just have to say “the baby is ugly.” in this case, the ugly baby is now a not-very-good-looking 22-year-old.
 
If we do not learn from a failed standards methodology in P25 we will be doomed to repeat it in Long Term Evolution (LTE). If a dominant manufacturer, who claims to support P25 as “the” digital voice method for public safety,” is also marketing hard a low-cost Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) product to public safety, it brings more confusion to the playing field. LTE has become all things to all people — a panacea — the end-all, be-all with high expectations and limited physics. While LTE is a good standard for data, the standard for robust two-way, mission-critical voice over LTE does not yet exist. Who will write that standard? Will users have input? Will it take more than 22 years with no end in sight like P25?
 
As LTE is rolled out, we see that the various committees are selecting one system ID instead of a system of systems where regions build LTE as they can, when they can. Will this also be a tip that one manufacturer will “get the job” of the nationwide LTE system? Will the national system be run like many commercial wireless carriers where as the system increases its sites, the jobs will be re-bid to not only allow multiple manufacturers, but to keep the dominant manufacturer honest in their pricing?
 
Let’s not repeat the same mistakes in P25 and allow proprietary features that limit competition. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) description of “mission critical” lacks operational concepts and structural features to obtain end-to-end mission-critical reliability.
 
DMR is causing destructive interference with incumbent analog users. Even if systems comply with separation rules on co-channel assignments, the distances from DMR transmitters interfering with analog systems is staggering. If there is concern tomorrow about TETRA, the same concern should currently exist with DMR.
 
The sales brochures about TETRA read similar to OpenSky – TDMA, multicast, no simulcast, IP. This will get interesting if TETRA comes in and competes against OpenSky. The major argument made against OpenSky is “inefficient use of spectrum,” yet TETRA is a similar format. Will the detractors of OpenSky have to reverse themselves and now argue for more spectrum? And where will DMR fit with P25, OpenSky, NEXEDGE, IDAS, or other alphabet soup digital standards? Dump it all and go to LTE? Not yet.
 
The comments above are my own and not necessarily those of my employer or its agencies, or any trade organizations I may belong to.
 
Steve Rauter
Executive Director
Western Will County Communications Center (WESCOM)
Plainfield, Ill.
 
 
Editor:
 
I read with great interest Motorola Solutions’ response to standards questions, particularly the second question, which asks if Motorola builds proprietary features into its Project 25 (P25) products that preclude users from buying equipment from other vendors. Motorola’s response doesn’t answer the question.
 
The first paragraph of the response correctly points out that certain features are incorporated in the P25 standard, and that the standard allows for the inclusion of additional features. If and when additional features are included, they become part of the standard, which means they are open and therefore shared/licensed across manufacturers. Motorola’s response implies that they only incorporate features that are part of the open standard. Such an implication is false, as is the statement that “these applications have been misconstrued or misrepresented by some vendors as proprietary.”
 
For example, last year’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) procurement, which we have cited in our letters on this subject, required “tactical other the air rekeying (OTAR).” By including this feature as a requirement the procurement was a sole-source award to Motorola. Why? Because tactical OTAR is a Motorola proprietary feature that is not part of the P25 standard and not offered by other manufacturers.
 
For proof, one needs look no further than the letter from Motorola to Relm. This letter was in response to Relm’s request for a tactical OTAR license so Relm could compete for such opportunities. Motorola’s letter 1) confirms that the technology is Motorola proprietary, 2) confirms that the technology is not part of the P25 standard, and 3) refuses Relm’s request for a license.
 
The use of proprietary features to preclude purchases of equipment from other companies can’t be documented any clearer.
 
William Kelly
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
Relm Wireless
 
 
Editor:
 
The responses that you printed in the online article “Motorola Responds to Standards Questions” is a great example of the double speak that Motorola uses when they get caught doing something naughty. There are very few in our industry and there are many outside LMR that don’t know that Motorola is driven to get the end user to employ specific Motorola proprietary technology as an overlay on top of P25 standards.
 
Yes, their products meet P25 but that really misses the issue. The lawmakers need to ask questions about why Motorola drives to have the public-safety customer employ SmartNet and its variants when, in reality, they allow no one else to copy the trunking technique that SmartNet uses. The “license” that Motorola charges EF Johnson Technologies is so expensive, that the EF Johnson devices that work on the SmartNet infrastructure cost close to the same as the expensive Motorola products.
 
But then, except for TETRA and its predecessor MPT 1327, which Motorola is certainly guilty of squashing its North American use via its intellectual property rights (IPRs) and thus making its proprietary SmartNet about the only complex infrastructure that actually works, the lawmakers should be asking those units of government, including the federal government itself, why they are buying obvious proprietary technology and wasting taxpayers’ money? The capabilities of SmartNet are available for less than one-third of what our government spends on sole-sourced Motorola SmartNet.
 
Shameful.
 
Scott Adams
Wixom, Mich.
 
 
Editor:
 
What a bunch of bunk! Motorola staff and their dealers are very intent on limiting competition and do so with vigor. Their Project 25 (P25) systems have numerous software updates that continue to plague other P25 equipment manufacturers. But their best trick these days is to convince public-safety departments that their proprietary ADP encryption software, that they are pretty much handing out for free, is an accepted standard when it isn’t. Once they have enough departments using ADP encryption, it becomes a de facto requirement and all other vendors are out of luck.
 
Motorola will talk all day about P25 standards and then work all night to find ways around them to their ultimate advantage. Even worse is when they get large metropolitan areas with multiple systems to let the local dealer be the system administrator.Talk about the fox in the hen house.
 
Scott Price
Advanced Radio Technology
Cincinnati, Ohio
 

 
In response to “Radio Networks Hold Up During Hurricane Irene” from Aug. 31
 
Editor:
 
We had to evacuate our public-safety answering point (PSAP) in Schoharie County N.Y. We're dispatching out of a small room in a village police station.
 
Maria Cartwright
 

 
 
Editor:
 
I want to commend the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for recognizing that copper theft is a serious problem and needs to be addressed immediately. Everyday there’s another report about copper being stolen from electric utilities, telecommunications companies and construction sites. I believe thieves feel they aren’t hurting anyone but big corporations; however, they don’t realize that copper wire is vital to so many things we rely on daily. They are stealing it from cell towers that can cripple communications, and that is especially dangerous in cases of emergencies. Electrical co-ops are getting hit as well, which caused increased power outages. Theft leads co-ops to continuously send trucks out to replace copper grounding wire, and that means customers will see increases in their rates.
 
In your article, the DHS recommended several ways to combat copper theft, including replacing copper wire with copper alternative. I couldn’t agree more with that suggestion because I feel a copper alternative is a less expensive, more efficient way for companies to combat the problems. GroundSmart Copper Clad Steel (CCS) and Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA) are just some of the copper alternatives that companies should consider for grounding solutions. CCS provides a safe, highly reliable alternative to the use of solid and stranded copper for grounding applications. CCS is specifically designed to disperse fault currents and lightning strikes at a lower total cost of ownership compared with pure copper. CCA is an electrical conductor that has an outer sleeve of copper metallurgically bonded to a solid aluminum core. The combination of these two metals makes it suited for many electrical applications where weight-to-conductivity issues are important.
 
HELIAX FXL is an RF transmission line cable designed to optimize performance and reliability while lowering network deployment cost. Compared with copper cabling, FXL delivers lower attenuation, higher crush strength and minimal copper content, therefore thieves are less likely to steal it.
 
Michael D. Garner
Business Development Manager
CommScope
Hickory, N.C.
 

 
In response to “Virginia Earthquake Overloads Cellular Networks” from Aug. 24
 
Editor:
 
As a past chairman of the Utilities Telecommunications Council (UTC), I can tell you that this has been a concern for a long time. Once again, another perfect example of why utilities can’t depend on or use commercial cellular networks for critical communications.
 
Joe Lackey
Farmville, Virginia
 

 
 
Editor:
 
Being familiar with trunking overall, active action to jam or even disable a system requires disabling the control channels. Standard analog transmitters keyed on the control channels will create illegal carrier error on the system and cause a control channel change. If you put carriers on all control channels, the system goes into fail soft, and if carriers are on all system channels, the entire system is rendered useless.
 
This applies to all trunked systems. If the channel is tied up, it’s not usable by the system. Simple enough.
 
As far as the security issues with encryption, these issues are programming and user training when it comes to Motorola Solutions gear. Busy lights will flash if transmitting with encryption. In addition, enabled radios will give a clear alert tone indicating at the beginning of each transmission that the transmission is being sent without encryption.
 
Radios can be configured that if the personality is strapped secure (meaning it must be secure at all times), it will not transmit and instead give a bonk (transmit prohibit tone) if no key is present and not allow the radio to transmit in clear. These features, coupled with proper training of end users about what a radio is indicating when they are using it, should eliminate the possibility of secure communications being transmitted in clear modes.
 
As far as the overall security of the protocol, anything that is encrypted has the ability of being decrypted. This is a hard fact. If it can’t be decrypted, then neither the user the traffic was meant for nor a nonintended third party could hear it. The issues with decrypting radio traffic are more in-depth than decrypting a computer file. Computer files that are encrypted have one flaw that doesn’t exist with audio transmissions — headers of the files. All computer files have a header in them indicating what type of file they are. An Excel file header indicates it an Excel file, a Word file as a similar but different header indicating it’s created in Word.
 
Project 25 (P25) is a streamed audio; no header exists. It’s just strings of ones and zeros. So if you apply a decryption key to it, it becomes different ones and zeros, but not the correct ones and zeros, and is still just noise. Getting past that is difficult.
 
The second issue is equipment. Any PC will decrypt a computer file with the correct software and enough time. Decrypting P25 radio traffic requires radio equipment or a service monitor costing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. So possessing the correct hardware is not just a trip to the local Wal-Mart for a laptop.
 
Once you have the correct hardware, you have the issue of interfacing it into something that will either decrypt the current key or brute force hack the key. Over the air rekeying’s (OTAR) proper use effectively eliminates the use of a brute force hack against the key, and even if it was successful, it would only be a good key until the OTAR system rekeyed the radio, rendering the need to hack the key all over again.
 
So while it’s possible, it would require engineering the interface of a P25 radio’s encryption module into a computer. The creation of a computer program that could send brute force hacks against the encryption key and then recognize actual P25 digitized audio on the fly and then decrypt it could only happen while a user was transmitting, unless the software could somehow record the data stream and attack it over and over until a key was found. Then it would need to be repeated every time the key was changed.
 
All of that being said, if an unencrypted link was introduced into the communications chain, such as a Motorola VRS 750, which does not support any encryption, and then the system is compromised before it’s in use.
 
I know there was on the Internet a recorded ASTRO Common Air Interface (CAI) communications that is Digital Encryption Standard (DES) encrypted with an offer of a high-dollar police scanner or cash for someone to crack the recording. To my knowledge, it was never done. So if it is possible, it’s not something that just anyone can do. To that end, no one but the engineers of the encryption systems knows of a Department of Defense/National Security Agency (DoD/NSA) super key that would allow them access to listen to any system, and if such a thing exists, it’s not being talked about.
 
Keith Foor
 
 
Editor:
 
Just what encryption protocol can be "easily" hacked? There are many encryption standards. A Radio Shack scanner can receive Project 25 (P25) traffic. Routine P25 traffic is not always encrypted.
 
I would ask the authors you are quoting to just be a bit more specific. Nobel Laureate Dr. Richard P. Feynman would be spinning in his grave at 10,000 rpm if he read this sort of thing.
 
Copy of your report follows:
“The report authors are Sandy Clark, Travis Goodspeed, Perry Metzger, Zachary Wasserman, Kevin Xu and Matt Blaze. The same security group made claims last year that P25 digital radios use an insecure communications protocol that can be easily hacked to allow interception of confidential law enforcement information.”
 
OK, prove it!
 
Jerry Griffith
 
 
Editor:
 
Thank you for this excellent article. I work in government sales, and the justifications to convert systems to P25 seem to have more in common with sales pitches for aluminum siding than with a complex IT system. It also helps to look at the industry from a long-term prospective. As an example, in the 1980s, the major supplier of radio systems pushed higher frequencies. In the 1990s, they pushed for higher frequencies, despite their poorer capabilities for use in structures and trunking. In the 2000s everyone was pushed to P25, and now that it’s 2010, we’re being pushed to Phase 2. In the 1990s, the costs for trunking systems and the number of towers were consistently underestimated. It seems we have the same issues with digital systems.
 
One would almost think that a major manufacturer has a plan to introduce a new technology every 10 years and then work with government agencies to encourage, through grants and FCC rulemaking, transitions from existing, proven systems. The interoperability promised by P25 can be provided by relatively inexpensive suitcase-sized systems made by a number of small businesses. Perhaps this is the real question. Why do public-safety managers listen to sales people from a large, multinational corporation that has a history of underestimating the costs and benefits for systems? Why do they not consider solutions from small businesses that are made in America? It’s almost as if this were done on purpose, but we know that can’t be true.
 
Rick Hansen
CEO
APS Global 
 

 
 
Editor:
 
Let's all stop and pray that the FCC and our government will see through the LightSquared marketing campaign and propaganda and do the right thing.
 
It's rumored that Lightsquared people were told they were trying to break certain "laws of physics" and their people simply said... "Then we'll get the government to change those laws.”
 
Guess our GPS devices will make good wheel chocks for the fire engines once LightSquared fills the airwaves with its noncompliant system.
 
Can anyone say BPL all over again?
 
Ken Isom
Independent Communications Consultant
  

 
 
Editor:
 
The only reaching out I will do is to urge my legislators to KILL the D block debacle.
 
James Tuggle, PE
  

 
 
Editor:
 
It’s nice that they put all this work into 700 and 800 MHz when we are still having ongoing coordination problems with Canada on VHF and UHF. Renewals, modifications — everything is being rejected by Canada. Who cares about Long Term Evolution (LTE) when police and fire departments are having license renewals rejected.
 
Steve Piotrowski
Interoperable Communications Consultant
Erie County Emergency Services
Buffalo, New York
  

 
In response to “LA-RICS Procurement Process Starts Over” from July 29
 
Editor:
 
Your article was more balanced than most. Some have suggested that the threat of a protest from Motorola Solutions is what took this off the rail, but in reality, it was the improper structuring of the request for proposals (RFP) that caused the “restart.” This is a point that seems to get lost here.
 
There are those who have said that public safety can’t possibly manage a project like this. There are those out there that are trying to prove those people right!
 
Don Wright
  

 
 
Editor:
 
I completely agree. What better way to reduce expenditures than to buy products and services in an open competition format, thus reducing costs.
 
I have found over my many years in business that it is more effective to make your own program than try and get your leadership to create a corporate plan. If we can figure out on our own how to reduce spending, we won't have to live with the cuts that Congress passes along.
 
Judy Stiles
Account Manager
TESSCO
  

 
In response to “New Zealand’s Digital Endeavors” from the Quarter 3 issue of RadioResource International, Page 20
 
Editor:
 
The article by David Ware was written as the view of one operator in a competitive New Zealand marketplace. The TETRA network operator referred to in the article is Kordia.
 
We operate New Zealand’s only commercial digital network using TETRA equipment under the brand name KorKor. KorKor is the only mobile radio solution meeting the team communications needs of our target customers through a converged solution of group calling, public telephone switched network (PTSN) and GPS tracking from the one integrated device.
 
Here are some facts about the network described in your magazine as being a “commercial failure.” KorKor counts among its customers Air New Zealand, the largest airline and the national carrier for New Zealand; Wellington International Airport, the second-largest airport in New Zealand; Auckland Council, the country’s largest council; ADT/Armourguard, the largest security company in the country; and TransPacific, New Zealand’s largest waste management company.
 
I’m sure my product manager would be happy to provide a positive statement about the benefits digital radio is bringing to team communications in New Zealand to counter Ware’s views.
 
Aaron Olphert
Kordia
Sales and Marketing Manager
Auckland, New Zealand
 
Author’s Response:
 
Far from being spiteful and pessimistic, I'm optimistic about the future of digital mobile radio — the only question is which standard will prevail.
  

 
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Click here for the May 2011 Inbox.
 
 

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