Two companies, Mobile Relay Associates and Skitronics, have petitioned the FCC to remove systems integrator BearingPoint from the Transition Administrator team that will oversee the rebanding of 800 MHz airwaves. They allege that BearingPoint "concealed material information" from the TA Selection Committee during the search process.

Specifically, they charge that BearingPoint failed to divulge $32 million in annual fees from Nextel Communications -- the culprit for most of the interference that plagues first responder communications nationwide -- for back-office systems testing and support services. They charge that, given the relationship, BearingPoint cannot be "independent or impartial."

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials was one of five entities that comprised the TA Selection Committee (the others were Nextel, SouthernLINC, Industrial Telecommunications Association and the United Telecom Council). Bob Gurss, APCO's director of legal and government affairs, told me this week that he is certain BearingPoint disclosed its relationship with Nextel, but wasn't sure if either company divulged the depth of the relationship.

I also spoke about the matter with Tim McElligott, a colleague who toils for Telephony, another Primedia Business publication, and who covers the back-office beat. McElligott told me that $32 million would be a gigantic number for a typical systems integrator and a meaningful number for a firm the size of BearingPoint.

In addition, I spoke to several public-safety officials. The conclusion I drew from these conversations is that public safety couldn't care less, which means the FCC ultimately isn't going to care.

Public safety has pined for the 800 MHz rebanding for years -- driven by the legitimate fear that someone is going to be killed because a first responder's radio didn't work properly because of interference from Nextel or some other commercial wireless carrier -- and doesn't want to see even a one-day delay in the start of a process that will take three years to complete.

"I'm not concerned about it, because I don't think there are many people out there that are qualified to do this, and I think there was an objective and effective team to do the selection process," said Charles Werner, deputy chief of the Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Department. "I'm more concerned about having to start over and delay the process than I am about feeling I'm going to be duped by somebody."

Vinnie Stile, director of radio communications for the Suffolk County, N.Y., police department and a former APCO president, isn't worried because he knows public safety will be watching the rebanding process like a fox watches a henhouse.

"I don't know that it's going to matter," Stile said. "Whatever does happen, if we smell a rat in the woodpile, I think that we're going to be jumping up and down. ... Let's see what happens."

Some in public safety think Mobile Relay Associates and Skitronics filed the petition simply because they will stop at nothing to derail rebanding. Harlin McEwen, chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police communications and technology committee, is one of those. He pointed to the earlier attempt by the companies to halt rebanding based on the assertion it would harm their businesses. The FCC denied the petition in January, and an appeals court upheld that decision on Feb. 2.

"It just looks like sour grapes," McEwen said. "If somebody had difficulty in negotiating with Nextel ... and BearingPoint didn't resolve the problem satisfactorily for public safety, then we would go to the FCC, which would be the final arbiter."

While the thought of having to mediate myriad challenges to the TA's decisions has to send a chill through the FCC, it would be a far better fate than having to face the backlash from public safety should the commission decide to boot BearingPoint off the team or even call a timeout to carefully consider the matter. Expect the FCC to deny this latest petition from Mobile Relay Associates and Skitronics -- soon.

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