From wildfires in California to hurricanes on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, communications are the bedrock of emergency response and management. However, those communications can be challenging when quickly evolving situations cross multiple jurisdictions — a truth painfully learned on 9/11, when more than a dozen agencies found it difficult to relay critical information to the right people at the right time.
Today, AT&T announced that all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have officially signed on to FirstNet, a government program operated by AT&T to provide universal emergency response communications across the country. States had until yesterday to officially opt-in or opt-out of the FirstNet system. California, Florida, Mississippi and New York were among the states that waited until the last minute to confirm their participation.
This is a major win for AT&T, which officially won the FirstNet contract this past March. The contract stipulated that AT&T would manage the network for 25 years, and the company committed to spending $40 billion to manage and operate the network. In exchange, the company would receive 20 MHz of critical wireless spectrum from the FCC, as well as payments from the government totaling $6.5 billion for the initial network rollout.
The true win for AT&T though is in the actual spectrum itself, which is in the 700 Mhz bandcommonly used for LTE signals. While the FirstNet spectrum is prioritized for first responders, it also can be used for consumer wireless applications when an emergency is not taking place, which should improve cellular reception and bandwidth for AT&T customers, particularly in urban areas.
The bigger loss, though, is with the U.S. taxpayer. FirstNet has had something of a painful birth and maturation process. Originally created as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, it was designed by Congress to create an exclusive network for first responders, who presumably couldn’t use consumer technology like smartphones to communicate with each other. That was following recommendations from the 9/11 Commission that encouraged Congress to allocate a dedicated public safety spectrum.
The program has had a glacial implementation process ever since. As Steven Brill described in The Atlantic last year: “FirstNet is in such disarray that 15 years after the problem it is supposed to solve was identified, it is years from completion—and it may never get completed at all. According to the GAO, estimates of its cost range from $12 billion to $47 billion, even as advances in digital technology seem to have eliminated the need to spend any of it.”
At issue is whether the rapid improvement of consumer wireless technology — which is available today — far outweighs the performance of a hypothetical public safety network that remains a glimmer in the mind’s eye.
Most interoperability problems have been solved by modern technology, and so the question becomes what the buildout is really for anyway. Why did the government give exclusive access to a critical part of the spectrum that could have benefited millions of consumers, while also provided expedited access for first responders?
For AT&T, the victory provides a new source of revenue from local police and fire departments, who will presumably come to rely on FirstNet for their emergency communications. It also gets a serious boost in its spectrum, along with free cash from taxpayers. But for all of us, it seems billions of dollars will be spent to create a specialist comm channel, when existing technologies are more than up to the task of providing these highly reliable services.
Leading German Far-Right Figure Ditches Party, Converts To Islam
A leading member of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, known for lamenting “Islamization” of the country, has stepped down following his conversion to Islam, according to multiple reports.
Arthur Wagner resigned from his position in the German state of Brandenburg on Jan. 11 for “personal reasons,” party spokesman Daniel Friese said Wednesday. Friese added that the party has no issue with Wagner’s decision.
It’s unclear what prompted Wagner’s religious conversion. Alternative for Germany, or AfD, rose to prominence beginning in 2015 with the influx of refugees and migrants into Europe. The party worked to appeal to mainstream Germans by stoking fear of a cultural overhaul and a threat to the German lifestyle.
“What they’ve done is create this extraordinary newspeak where all of their positions are justified in terms of liberal arguments about right to an identity, right to a separate culture ― arguments about how far a Western culture can absorb a non-Western culture,” Roger Griffin, an expert on fascism and modern history at Oxford Brookes University, told HuffPost last year.
The party was voted into Germany’s Bundestag, or parliament, for the first time in last year’s elections. It’s promoted policies like the repatriation of 500,000 Syrian refugeesliving in Germany, claiming the Syrian civil war is almost over.
Brazilian Court Upholds Lula’s Corruption Conviction
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Jan 24 (Reuters) – A Brazilian appeals court upheld the corruption conviction of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday, a major blow to the plans of the country’s most influential politician to run for the presidency again this year.
The first two of three judges voted to uphold Lula’s convictions on taking bribes and money laundering and agreed with the prosecutors’ request to lengthen the prison sentence of Brazil’s first working-class leader, who remains free pending future appeals.
Lula, 72, could now be ineligible to stand for election under Brazil’s “Ficha Limpa” or “Clean Record” law, which bans political candidates whose convictions are upheld by an appelate court. However, an electoral court must make the final ruling on a candidacy, and would only do so once a candidate had registered.
Lula can appeal Wednesday’s decision to higher courts to delay a final decision, possibly avoiding jail and stringing the process out long enough to register his candidacy by the Aug. 15 deadline.
Lula is one of scores of powerful politicians and businessmen caught up in sweeping corruption probes that have wracked the Brazilian establishment since 2014.
His exclusion from the election would radically alter the political landscape ahead of a campaign in which Lula is the early favorite, with 36 percent of voter preferences according to pollster Datafolha. That is double the percentage of his nearest rival, the far-right congressman and former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, who has been energized by anti-Lula sentiment.
Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa stock index has risen 8 percent so far this year, propped up by expectations Lula will be barred from the election, clearing the way for a more market-friendly candidate who would stick to Brazil’s austerity agenda.
The Bovespa hit an all-time high on Wednesday as the first of three judges on the court began reading his decision, dismissing a series of arguments presented by Lula’s lawyers.
Brazil’s currency, the real, firmed 1.6 percent against the U.S. dollar, leading gains in Latin America.
Lula faces six other indictments in corruption cases ranging from receiving bribes from engineering firm Odebrecht to obstructing justice and trafficking his influence to obtain government decisions favoring the auto industry. He is among over 100 people convicted in the “Car Wash” investigation, the most sprawling of Brazil’s numerous probes, focused on graft involving oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro and other state-run companies.
Speaking at a union rally on the outskirts of Sao Paulo on Wednesday, Lula told the crowd, “I committed no crime.”
“The only fair decision today would be a 3-0 ruling that I was wrongly convicted and sentenced,” Lula said
Lula was convicted of corruption and money laundering last year for accepting a beachside apartment from an engineering firm vying for contracts with the state oil company known as Petrobras.
Prosecutors said the apartment and its refurbishing was a bribe worth 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million). Lula maintains he never owned the penthouse apartment, criticizing prosecutors for relying on the plea bargain testimony of one witness, businessman Leo Pinheiro.
“His word is not enough to incriminate Lula,” Lula’s lawyer Cristiano Zanin told the appeals court.
(Writing and additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Additional reporting by Bruno Federowski in Brasilia and Pablo Garcia in Sao Bernardo do Campo; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay)
Trump Threatens To Pull Aid To Palestinians If They Don’t Pursue Peace
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to withhold aid to the Palestinians if they did not pursue peace with Israel, saying they had snubbed the United States by not meeting Vice President Mike Pence during a recent visit.
Trump, speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum, said he wanted peace. However, his remarks could further frustrate the aim of reviving long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Palestinians shunned Pence’s visit to the region this month after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to begin moving the U.S. embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Trump’s endorsement in December of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders and criticism around the world. It also broke with decades of U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands ― that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” Trump said.
The United States said this month it would withhold $65 million of $125 million it had planned to send to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees. The UNRWA agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from U.N. states and the United states is the largest contributor.
A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the United States had taken itself “off the table” as a peace mediator since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Palestinian rights are not up to any bargain and Jerusalem is not for sale. The United States can’t have any role unless it retreats its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters by phone from Jordan.
Abbas has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a “slap in the face” and has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.
Abbas has said he would only accept a broad, internationally backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley also criticized Abbas.
Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Speaking in Davos, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said only the United States could broker a peace deal.
“I think there’s no substitute for the United States. As the honest broker, as a facilitator, there’s no other international body that would do it,” Netanyahu said.
Trump said Palestinians had to come to the negotiating table.
“Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace and they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with them any longer,” Trump said.
Trump said his administration had a peace proposal in the works that was a “great proposal forPalestinians” which covers “a lot of the things that were over the years discussed or agreed on”, without providing specifics.
Trump said his declaration on Jerusalem took it off the negotiating table “and Israel will pay for that”, adding “they’ll do something that will be a very good thing” without elaborating.
Earlier at the World Economic Forum, Jordanian King Abdullah said Jerusalem had to be part of a comprehensive solution.
He said Trump’s decision had created a backlash, frustrating Palestinians who felt there was no honest broker.
But he added: “I’d like to reserve judgment because we’re still waiting for the Americans to come out with their plan.”
King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Jordan particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.
The last talks collapsed in 2014, partly due to Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, and because of Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.
Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider as illegal the Israeli settlements built in the territory which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel denies its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks.
The United States has said it would support a two-state solution if the Israelis and Palestiniansagreed to it.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in RAMALLAH, Ari Rabinovitch in JERUSALEM, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Noah Barkin and Dmitry Zhdannikov in DAVOS; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Bendeich)
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