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Motorola Systematically Builds Emergency Radio Stranglehold

Date Added: June 17, 2014 03:45:55 AM
Author: Franklin Jacquez
Category: Sports: Software

This piece is posted with the strict authorization of communication device used in a personal computer.co.uk, which is the original site. please get agreement from that website before reposting this short article. At the eastern end of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sheriff Warren Rupf of Contra Costa County and cigar-chomping Sheriff Charlie Plummer of neighboring Alameda County were political powerhouses seemingly locked in an endless duel of one-upsmanship. When Rupf set up a marine patrol, Plummer started buying boats. They echoed each other with helicopters, SWAT teams, and on it went. But in 2005, amid a federal push to avoid another communications nightmare like the one blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, deaths of 125 New York firefighters at the collapsed World Trade Center, Rupf and Plummer joined forces. They set their sights on a new digital Walkie Talkie system so that all of their first responders could talk to each other. There was, however, a catch. A notice circulated by Alameda County to gauge vendors interest in the project said that the first $5.7 million phase must include a master controller made by Motorola Inc., and the equipment must connect with the countys aged, proprietary Motorola SmartNet II system. In other words, it was already a done deal. Nobody else could make their equipment compatible with soon-to-be-obsolete Motorola equipment nobody except Motorola, said Steve Overacker, who was Contra Costa Countys telecommunications manager at the time. Any appearance that there would be a fair, competitive bidding process was a ruse, he said in a phone interview. Chalk up another contract win for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Goliath of the public safety communications industry, a company that for decades has ruled a market financed entirely by taxpayers and now totaling billions of dollars a year. For Motorola Solutions Inc., as it has been known since 2011, the value of this California contract would snowball toward $100 million. Such outcomes have come to be expected for the company that has long led the way in two-way radio technology, even as the nation went on a post-9/11 spending binge on emergency communication. However, a seven-month McClatchy investigation found that, in one region after another, city, county and state officials also have favored Motorola, helping the firm secure an estimated 80 percent of all the emergency telecommunications business in America. From the nations capital to the Pacific Coast, government officials have handed the company noncompetitive contracts, used modifications of years-old contracts to acquire new systems or crafted bid specifications to Motorolas advantage. These officials, perhaps without recognizing their collective role, have helped stunt the very competition thats needed to hold down prices and assure the most efficient use of government dollars. The companys contract wins have been clouded by irregularities or allegations of government favoritism in Chicago, Dallas, the San Francisco Bay Area and on statewide systems in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Washington, to name a few. Losing bidders often have been left chafing with the belief that they werent playing on a level field. In a weakly policed but humongous patchwork of as many as 20,000 city, county, state and federal two-way radio networks, governments have paid as much as $7,500 apiece for Motorola models, when some competitors offered products meeting the same specifications for a fraction of its prices. In Europe, albeit with a lower-power network that requires more costly towers and infrastructure, police radios serving the same functions sell for $500 to $700. While our public safety people do an extraordinary job in protecting the public, I am not impressed with the choices theyve made relative to technology, said veteran Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, who represents part of Silicon Valley and has for years monitored Motorolas dominance with chagrin. In a phone interview, she called radio prices of $5,000 and above ludicrous. The Washington State Patrol has bought 2,700 Motorola radios in recent years as part of a major upgrade of its communications system aimed at meeting a federal mandate to free up space on the radio spectrum for more users. The $32 million contract is part of a project budget of just more than $41 million and includes a cost of roughly $5,400 to $5,500 per radio, said Bob Schwent, commander of the patrols electronic services division. The state chose to tie in with a federal system, which saved $12 million but required Washington to buy its equipment through a no-bid contract with Motorola. At the time, some companies complained that the radio purchase wasnt opened to competitive bidding.