Our $7 Billion Emergency LTE Network Appears Stuck In Corrupt, Bureaucratic Purgatory

from the more-of-the-same dept

Ever since first responder emergency communications failed back on 9/11, there has been a concerted effort to try and build some kind of wireless, national emergency communications network. In typical Congressional fashion, this included several years of yelling, screaming, disagreement, and general histrionics. After more than a decade, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 finally created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), which according to its website will coordinate the build of an 700 MHz LTE-based emergency broadband network that piggybacks on existing networks.

FirstNet was recently hit with a small scandal after Iowa Sheriff and board member Paul Fitzgerald complained that FirstNet had been hijacked by large carriers like Verizon and AT&T. According to Fitzgerald, FirstNet spent its first few years of existence with carrier-tied leaders conducting secret meetings, making decisions outside of the board room, hiring outside industry consultants with ties to industry, and elbowing out participants with actual security and emergency backgrounds.

Not to worry though, because FirstNet, whose GM is former Verizon executive Bill D'Agostino, investigated itself and declared that nobody broke the law. Granted, concerns were about conflict of interest, not violation of law, and an investigation is ongoing by the Inspector General of the Department of Commerce. While these accusations were being flung about, companies like Motorola were also rumored to be trying to scuttle the whole project, preferring to continue to make money off the scattered ad hoc selection of emergency communications services using their radio hardware.

Not too surprisingly, all of this appears to have resulted in little to no actual work getting done despite the $7 billion budget (which most agree will balloon handsomely before anything even gets built). According to a new report by a FirstNet State Point of Contact in the State of Washington, the entire project now appears to be stuck in neutral as agencies and companies scurry for their piece of the pie, with key staffing positions remaining left unfilled two years later, and the people who were hired getting paid handsomely with not much to show for it:
"I’ve heard – but cannot verify – that some of the contract staff hired in late 2012 and 2013 were paid $300 an hour...The contract under which the staff were hired expired in October 2013. Most of the existing 35 or so contracted staff (who were quite competent, by the way) were laid off. Three new contracts were established in October. But as of this writing – four months later - no technical contractors, and only a handful of public relations contractors, have been hired. How do you create a nationwide design and individual state-specific plans for a wireless network without technical staff?......key positions go unfilled, such as the CIO and CTO positions."
Two years into a $7 billion project and just 25 people have been hired, many of them focused on public relations. Worse, numerous existing communications networks that were being used were put on indefinite hold so this new network could be built, meaning in some areas emergency communications is actually worse for our $7 billion. If that's not a fantastic start I'm not sure what is. Can the United States actually work cohesively together to build anything on a national scale anymore (OK, outside a total surveillance state)? Or are we really so broken, corrupt and incompetent that even providing emergency communications to the people who save our lives is a bridge too far?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:12pm

    Then we should do what the 9/11 citizen first responders did; self-organize and develop one by ourselves, for ourselves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Derek, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:25pm

    Soviet-scale corruption comes to America

    We call it "public/private partnerships." People think it's different because business! Capitalism! Profit!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:38pm

    Re:

    Amateur radio operators... "hams"... having been doing exactly that since the 1920's. Equipped with spectrum, digital modes and widely-deployed equipment and experience, we stand ready to assist. Bring it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:57pm

    Re: Re:

    Amateur operators just need to organize and contract with local government. Small jurisdictions that have experienced communication outages would be happy to have the help.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Daniel (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 7:15pm

    Huh?

    While using it's own LTE band is a good goal... why not start with using existing LTE? In other words, why not use the internet? It would automatically include every phone, tablet, and computer... and it wouldn't have specific hardware requirements.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 7:42pm

    Re: Huh?

    Perhaps they can coordinate with service provider
    s to give them call priority.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 7:45pm

    "Can the United States actually work cohesively together to build anything on a national scale anymore"

    Maybe we can build that nuclear defense shield that the mainstream press keeps insisting will terrify Russia.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 7:58pm

    Re: Re: Huh?

    In fact the government should probably mandate that service providers give them priority. No additional compensation needed, when the government gave them permission to use spectra that is more than enough compensation already.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    An obvious solution presents itself

    Just ask the NSA if they'd be willing, in a time of national emergency, to relay the messages they're already intercepting.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    any moose cow word, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 9:54pm

    Re: An obvious solution presents itself

    But that would require them to admit to intercepting calls. Even now that everyone knows about it, the NSA been lying about it for so long that they still can't admit it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 4:28am

    Is this the same government that will run healthcare?

    And people wonder why the Republicans don't want the government taking over healthcare. And yes, that is the Democrats ultimate goal, a complete takeover.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 7:39am

    Re: Is this the same government that will run healthcare?

    Incompetent government for non-profit or incompetent private business for profit. Take a pick?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Mr Ham, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Meanwhile, the amateur radio service is alive and well around the world and costs the government only the cost of administrating the licensing systems.

    It's great that the government wants a 'first responder nationwide network' for first responders. But they already have a nationwide network that works very well for emergency disaster and volunteer civil communications in the amateur radio service (ham radio operators). We step in when our communities call for help with communications for community events such as state fairs, public sporting events, and for disasters and weather related hazards.

    Ham radio operators stepped into their roles for emergency communications with the Boston Marathon bombings, the 9/11 attacks, hurricane damage (Katrina, Sandy, Ivan, Charlie, etc), tornadoes, earthquakes, and the whole gamut of other problems where other communications systems don't quite meet the needs of the moment. It's not a perfect situation, not all communities have an active amateur radio presence since the Internet and cell phone service have taken over day to day communications. But it's very easy to pass the tests to get a license. The government could expand the nation's emergency preparedness inside a couple of years with a tiny fraction of that 7 billion simply by openly promoting amateur radio and emergency communications preparations.

    Instead of spending billions on a new system that would inevitably be screwed over by the incumbent commercial providers, Congress would have been well advised to look into what's already in place and *working* to improve and expand it. I suppose that doesn't get headlines for the people back home. Seven billion on a service that doesn't work, versus a few million to study and improve a service that does work. One gets headlines and votes, the other one gets a yawn.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 7th, 2014 @ 1:09pm

    Re:

    I, for one, actually feel a great deal safer and more comfortable because of the existence of the ham community. Their history is impressive, their public service is undeniable, and they do a better job of maintaining communications in the face of massive disasters than the government, the telephone (including cell) service, and the internet.

    Thank you, ham operators everywhere!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re: Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 11:52am

    Re: Soviet-scale corruption comes to America

    Nothing capitalist about the government handing private firms a monopoly on something.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 11:53am

    Re: Huh?

    Which existing LTE? They all operate on different bands.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: Is this the same government that will run healthcare?

    Don't be absurd, the republicans want big government too.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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