The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Don't Touch that Dial

By Jordan Smith, May 19, 2000, News

Com-Net Ericsson officials were so perplexed over the city's recent decision to award a plum radio contract to its rival, Motorola Inc., that the company submitted a notice of intent to protest -- but just as quickly withdrew the notice and decided to bow out gracefully. After all, Ericsson officials reasoned, things still might not work out between the city and Motorola.

But for now, it looks like this long-simmering controversy ("Communication Breakdown," Dec. 10, 1999), is finally winding toward a conclusion. The Austin City Council last week voted unanimously to enter contract negotiations with Motorola for a $63million deal that will ultimately link emergency and law enforcement officers under a single, countywide radio network.

Still, among those familiar with the long-standing -- and often bitter -- rivalry between Motorola and Ericsson, there are a couple of theories being floated as to how Motorola secured the contract. For one thing, Motorola's strong work force in Austin -- with 10,000 employees -- couldn't have hurt. Cynics have also theorized that Motorola's influence grew substantially once Mark Rose -- former head of the Lower Colorado River Authority -- moved to Public Strategies, a high-powered lobbying firm that is believed to count Motorola as one of its clients.

A woman who answered the phone at Public Strategies said the company does not release such information, and Rose had not returned a Chronicle phone call by press time. But before he left the LCRA in January, Rose had been on the other side of the issue. The LCRA owns an Ericsson radio system, and Rose, while he was head of the authority, had touted it as a cost-effective way for the city to hook into an existing infrastructure. In contrast, Motorola will take about two years to build and install its network.

Austin voters approved $38 million in bonds nearly three years ago to go toward the purchase of a countywide system that was supposed to be fully operational by 1999. While other cities have been able to install networks in a shorter period of time, the city team originally set up to facilitate the radio program was less than successful. Late last year, team leader Kenny Williams was pulled off of the project and replaced by Pete Collins.

Collins, for his part, said he is satisfied with the selection process. "We've got our preferred vendor. Basically [Motorola] won because of cost, maintenance, and coverage. Coverage was the number one issue. Motorola offered a better solution. I can stand up and say it was a fair process and right decision," Collins said. "It's right for the city of Austin and the people on the street who will be using the system. The conclusion of this saga is, we're on time and it looks like we're within budget."

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