Home MTA Technology Did the MTA sign a cell service contract with a bogus company?

Did the MTA sign a cell service contract with a bogus company?

by Benjamin Kabak

At the end of September, the MTA and Transit Wireless announced a multi-million-dollar deal that would usher in the age of cell phones in the subway. Since these two groups completed their 10-year deal, things were silent on the cell phone front, but this past weekend witnessed a flurry of news — one good, one bad, and some just plan ol’ ridiculous — concerning the upcoming arrival of cell-equipped subway platforms.

Today, I’ll tackle this news in two parts. First up is the good and the bad. Later on, we’ll get to the ridiculous.

In the age of terrorism, the MTA is astutely aware that cell phones can be used to trigger underground detonations. To that end, in case of an emergency, the MTA is prepared to crack down on underground cell phone use by non-MTA employees.

In principle, this is a great idea. Once emergency response protocols are in place, MTA workers and police officers can limit cell phone use. But what about in the first few minutes of panic and confusion when a terrorist is most likely to use a cell signal as a remote detonator? I’m no terrorism or emergency response expert, but I would have to believe that simply expressing a wish that people don’t use their phones to contact loved ones during an emergency probably won’t work.

If that’s what I consider good news, what’s the bad? Well, Michael Rundle at Metro brings us a story about the precariousness of Transit Wireless. It sounds like the MTA signed a 10-year deal worth around $200 million with a company that doesn’t really exist and may not have the funds to pay up or implement its plan. The details, if you will:

The company tasked with bringing cell phone service to 277 subway stations within six years is a startup with no secured financing and their deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority could fall through, according to testimony at a City Council hearing on Thursday…

But under questioning from the City Council Transportation Committee, MTA Deputy General Counsel Jerome Page said a necessary stage in securing the plan — a Notice to Proceed — has been withheld from the company pending secured financing. “The MTA has entered into an agreement with TW that seems too good to be true,” said committee chairman John Liu. “Not only is it supposed to cost the MTA nothing, the MTA believes it may even garner some revenue for the MTA. However, a crucial element is missing — sound financial backing.”

While Liu fears that the MTA will be “back at the drawing board a year, two years from now,” I’m just enjoying a good chuckle over this story. Of course the group with the best bid is the one least able to fulfill the terms of the deal, and if Transit Wireless has to back out of the deal, it seems unlikely that the MTA could sue the nascent group because they would have no assets. Considering that no wireless carriers have signed on to the deal yet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this whole thing fall apart in the blink of an eye.

So as we sit and wait for the cell service plan to fall apart, check back later — around 1 p.m. — for some funny stories that came out of last week’s City Council hearing on the cell phone service. I can’t make this stuff up.

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