Tags: Money | AT&T | Cellphone | Washington | D.C.

DC Metro's Cellphone Service Hangs Up

Thursday, 24 Mar 2016 03:53 PM Current | Bio | Archive

The airline industry and the Washington, D.C. metro have much in common.

Neither airlines nor Metro are particularly customer–centric.

Airline executives spend days calculating the ratio between seat width and the onset of air rage. While Metro refuses to let passengers use the bathroom.

In the event of bad weather both abruptly shut down and passengers are left to fend for themselves. On days without severe weather passengers on both are subject to random delays and cancellations — with scant guidance from management.

Airlines and Metro even share similar communication requests: Flyers ask for Wi-Fi and commuters ask for cell service.

Granting these requests presents a problem: Airplanes travel thousands of feet above the surface of the earth, while Metro trains frequently run far below.

The difference between how airlines and Metro responded is a perfect example of how the private sector treats money and how government wastes it.

Airline executives were faced with a cost/benefit dilemma: Customers said they wanted Wi-Fi, but how many would agree to pay for Wi-Fi?

Metro never bothered.

There was no chance commuters would pay extra for cell service.

This is where the free market acts as an impartial arbiter of practicality.

Could airlines satisfy demand at a price that would pay for equipment installation and leave room for a potential profit?

Airlines that removed free peanuts from the menu weren’t about to spend millions giving away Internet connections. A company named Gogo was.

Gogo installed Wi-Fi on planes for free and then paid airlines a percentage of the revenue generated. Market success proved airlines could respond to demand for a peripheral service and still be profitable.

Metro’s cellphone saga is quite the opposite.

Originally AT&T was given exclusive rights to install cell equipment in Metro tunnels.

In return for this marketing advantage, AT&T foots the bill and upgrades Metro’s communication equipment.

The monopoly–to–monopoly arrangement failed, which should have been a valuable object lesson. In 2008 the feds passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA).

The bill allocated $1.5 billion in long-term funding and set a deadline for subterranean cell service.

Here’s another bad omen. One government body, Congress, decides another government body, Metro, must add a service that has nothing to do with its core mission and sets an arbitrary deadline for completion.

This time Metro signed a contract with a consortium that included Verizon, Sprint, T–Mobile and to show no hard feelings, AT&T.

The companies would pay for equipment installation and upgrade Metro communication (again).

Service was to be functional by 2011. It wasn’t.

Metro had a major crash in 2009 and the system was plagued by maintenance breakdowns.

Metro was incapable of simultaneously scheduling maintenance work and cell installation, so cell lost out.

The final blow was when the installation contractor went bankrupt waiting to get in the tunnels.

Two attempts, an appropriation bill and still no subterranean cell service. Yet, somehow, life in Washington managed to continue.

Last fall Metro announced the third attempt with the same four companies.

Installation in the 101 miles of tunnel would be complete by 2020.

Since phone company installers evidently suffered from claustrophobia, the Washington Post reported this time the consortium “would pay Metro tens of millions of dollars and the agency would do the tunnel wiring itself.”

Metro officials could hardly wait, ““When we pull the cables through, as we go up the Red Line in the first segment of this, they can ‘light it up’ as they go along, as they say in the telecom business.”

But since this is Metro only the taxpayers get lit up.

Now Metro has a third agreement with the Four Horsemen of the Cellpocalypse.

The Washginton Post reports Metro will be paying the entire $120 million cost to install cell service using capital–improvement funds. 

The cell companies pay absolutely nothing and in return get expanded usage of their product. Metro bails out profitable cell companies that didn’t know they needed bailing out.

An agency that shut down the entire system last week, stranding tens of thousands of riders, because of deferred and faulty maintenance is now taking money from the capital budget to pay for installing a frill that will let self–absorbed political wannabes stay on the phone ten minutes longer.

Metro’s efforts to provide underground cell service demonstrate how tax dollars are the perfect insulator when you want to avoid getting a chill from the cold, hard facts of the market.

New Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld says the system is facing a budget squeeze. The Post says he is urging transit executives to “cut non–essential spending” to cover an expected budget shortfall.

I suggest Wiedenfeld start by cutting the $120 million to pay for cell service the private sector won’t support.

Michael R. Shannon is a commentator, researcher (for the League of American Voters), and an award-winning political and advertising consultant with nationwide and international experience. He is author of "Conservative Christian’s Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!)." Read more of Michael Shannon's reports — Go Here Now.

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Metro’s efforts to provide underground cell service demonstrate how tax dollars are the perfect insulator when you want to avoid getting a chill from the cold, hard facts of the market.
AT&T, Cellphone, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 24 Mar 2016 03:53 PM
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