Like a lot of people, I am fixated on what’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area right now. My interest has nothing to do with the Giants making it to the World Series, though that would have been a reasonable guess. Rather, I am marveling at the chaos that currently is surrounding the project to build what was expected to be the country’s first 700 MHz, LTE-based public-safety broadband communications network and wondering how it has come to this.

In the November print edition of Urgent Communications, Senior Writer Donny Jackson offers an exhaustive account of what has transpired to this point. Much of it is mind-boggling. At worst, improprieties exist concerning the vendor-selection and spectrum-leasing processes. At best, the myriad entities that are involved in the project exhibited an astounding lack of communication.

Now, the project could be in jeopardy. If it is determined that the project needs to be put out for bid, the $70 million in funding that already is committed could disappear. The greater fear is that federal lawmakers will take a look at this fiasco and begin to question the wisdom of turning over $12 billion and the coveted D Block — which would put several billion dollars into the U.S. Treasury if it were auctioned to commercial interests — to public safety, so it can build the nationwide broadband network for first responders that it long has dreamed about. It’s a reasonable fear, especially given the country’s slow economic recovery, which is causing the death of many government programs.

It has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The quote largely is attributed to the showman P.T. Barnum, who invented the three-ring circus, but also regularly took heat for the sideshows he created that often featured the bizarre and occasionally duped the public. I couldn’t disagree more with Barnum. The last thing public safety needed was bad publicity right out of the gate concerning the effort to leverage the 700 MHz airwaves and LTE, especially when Congress still is mulling what to do with the D Block.

Public safety would do well to note that Barnum’s most famous quote was, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Rest assured that the federal government will not allow itself to be suckered, and will pull the plug on the nationwide network in a heartbeat if it believes that the public-safety sector doesn’t have its house in order. It is imperative then that the San Francisco Bay Area mess is cleaned up pronto — and that every other region contemplating such a network buildout learns from their collective experience.

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