Procurement issues hindering public-safety LTE efforts
Spectrum and funding: Those two components have been the focus of public-safety leaders for the past two years, as they have lobbied hard to get the FCC to provide waivers that would allow trailblazing LTE operations on first-responder broadband spectrum in the 700 MHz band and to secure funding for initial network buildouts.
The FCC did its part last May, providing 700 MHz waivers to 21 governmental entities planning to build public-safety LTE networks. And the federal government made funding available to a handful of these entities a year ago, via grant money associated with the economic-stimulus package.
Few industry observers expected these proposed broadband networks to be operational now, but it was reasonable to expect that vendors would be selected and that the multimillion-dollar projects would be in full installation mode by now. However, with the exception of Adams County, Colo. — one of the smaller of the proposed LTE projects — that has not been the case, as simply reaching an agreement with a vendor has proven difficult.
Last week’s decision by the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) to scrap lengthy procurement work and restart the bidding process for its massive project to integrate public-safety P25 and LTE systems in the region is the latest example.
Earlier this year, LA-RICS selected Raytheon as the system integrator for the project, the LTE portion of which would be funded by a $154.6 million broadband stimulus grant. With its governance structure established early, many opined that LA-RICS could prove to be the model that other regions nationwide should follow to make the mobile broadband vision a reality.
That sentiment is not commonplace today, after legal staff determined that the lengthy LA-RICS procurement process did not meet state guidelines. Even now, the exact details of the problem remain fuzzy to Raytheon officials, who have wondered where the attorneys who reached this conclusion have been during the past three years. Others note that elected officials may have feared a legal challenge from Motorola, which protested months ago.
Whatever, the reason, LA-RICS now has to go back to Washington to seek a waiver from the federal government to get an extension on its grant funding — something the government has resisted doing for public-safety broadband projects to date.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a public-safety LTE project has run into snags. The city of Charlotte, N.C., decided to restart its procurement process, and the San Francisco Bay Area’s governance and procurement controversies have been well chronicled.
None of these 700 MHz waiver situations has been the same; different issues have arisen in each case. However, the bottom line is that none of these proposed projects have progressed as quickly as hoped, which begs the question: Is there a better way to procure these projects, so these LTE deployments happen more efficiently?
There is no easy answer. Clearly, letting local jurisdictions — many of which lack personnel with LTE expertise — has its downsides, but there is a legitimate fear that a process focused at the federal or state level could fail to serve the needs of local first responders.
It’s a delicate balance, but finding the proper answer certainly is worthy of as much time and effort as necessary. After all, first responders promise to benefit greatly from applications made capable by the deployment of LTE, not from repeated false starts and legal posturing associated with procurement processes.
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