Towers on Mount St. Lukens in San Gabriel Mountains
The federal government suspended funding last Friday for development of a Los Angeles County regional emergency broadband network after public outcry derailed construction of 200 cell towers at fire stations and other public facilities.
The U.S Department of Commerce called the system “severely behind schedule” and froze a $154-million grant, which paid for 80% of the system meant to link up 80 public safety agencies and 34,000 first-responders serving 10 million people across 4,060 square miles. Such a system has been talked about since September 11, 2001, and ardently pursued for the past six years.
According to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), which is doling out the money, “The network would enable computer-aided dispatch, rapid law-enforcement queries, real-time video streaming, medical telemetry and patient tracking, geographic information systems services for first responders, and many other broadband-specific applications.”
The network is one of five such pilot projects across the country, according to RCR Wireless News.
The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System Authority (LA-RICS) broke the project into two systems: a Long-Term Evolution for data transmission and a Land Mobil Radio for first responders. It’s the first one that lost its funding after building fewer than 20 towers and beginning work on 40 others, according to The Acorn.
The second $250-million project is in the planning stage and is scheduled to be finished in 2018.
The tower project, which has a September 30 deadline for completion, has incurred serious problems from the start. Around 12 cities dropped out, complaining about its lack of necessity, the cost of participating and inconvenience of cell towers. At some point, if enough cities drop out, the project becomes unworkable.
LA-RICS requested an extension from the federal government even as the county Board of Supervisors voted two weeks ago to halt construction on some of the most contentious towers. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted to stop construction of towers and sought alternatives to the project as planned.
Complaints about the towers have streamed in from a number of directions. Some firefighters complained about perceived health risks from radio frequency emissions. One tower was nixed after complaints that five oak trees would have to be removed to make way for it. The California Coastal Commission objected to some towers in the Malibu area. Some county residents complained about aesthetics, safety and the effect on their property values.
The county is not giving up. It has until April 13 to submit a revised plan that passes muster with the Board, the L.A. City Council and the NTIA. County Supervisor Don Knabe said in a statement that the task is doable, “whether we have to reconfigure where we place the towers or refresh our outreach to communities.”
That sounds like a lot to get done in 10 days. Members of LA-RICS reportedly plan on visiting Washington, D.C., the week of April 20 to lobby for an extension.