Motorola Seen Undermining Network Fixing 9/11 Radio Flaws

Motorola Solutions Inc. was accused by a Senate leader of undermining a U.S. radio network being built to avoid repeating the communications failures that plagued emergency workers during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The company that sells radios to police and fire departments is “financing a public relations and lobbying campaign to erode support for FirstNet’s work and mission,” Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a letter yesterday to Motorola, citing press reports.

The U.S. is planning to build the network, known as FirstNet, to supplant today’s patchwork of municipal emergency radio systems that impedes communication between agencies and was cited by the 9/11 Commission.

Motorola, which makes most of its money from public-safety agencies, supports the new network, Nicholas Sweers, a spokesman for the Schaumburg, Illinois-based company, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Our objective is to help make FirstNet a success,” Sweers said.

Motorola has a “significant share” and as much as 80 percent of the U.S. public-safety market, where handsets that use proprietary technology can cost $5,000 compared with consumer devices that sell for a few hundred dollars, the Federal Communications Commission told Congress in 2010.

Billion-Dollar Network

FirstNet would create a single network using standards open to multiple device vendors. The U.S. government has dedicated $7 billion to its construction, and the total expenditure has been estimated at $18 billion to $40 billion, with those figures not including the cost of radios, according to a report last year by the Congressional Research Service.

Motorola reported $6 billion in net sales to governments in 2012, when it had sales of $8.7 billion. About 40 percent of revenue was generated by customers outside the U.S., the company said in a filing.

Motorola shares rose 70 cents to $60.39 at 4:03 p.m. New York time.

Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has identified FirstNet’s success as a priority.

The system is designed to end shortfalls that left police and firefighters at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center unable to speak to one another on Sept. 11, 2001. Fixing those shortcomings was a recommendation in the 9/11 Commission Report from the panel that investigated the attacks.

“I urge you to immediately cease your campaign and to work constructively with the FirstNet board,” Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said in his letter to Motorola Chief Executive Officer Greg Brown.

FirstNet Authority

Motorola asked police and firefighters to criticize the First Responder Network Authority that oversees the new network, according to a June report in Politico.

Asked about that report Sweers, the Motorola spokesman, in an interview said, “Are we working outside FirstNet? I would argue we’re working directly with FirstNet.”

The authority is reviewing complaints raised by a member, Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, who in April said a lack of openness was “killing our credibility,” according to a version of Fitzgerald’s remarks to the authority board that was distributed by e-mail.

Heather Phillips, a spokeswoman for the authority that is housed in the Commerce Department, declined to comment today.

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