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By Patriot-News Editorial Board

Senator Mike Folmer Pull the plug on the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network.

That is the option lawmakers and the governor should consider as the system, more than 10 years past its original completion date, is still not finished and getting failing marks from some agencies that use it.

Just as important as its malfunctions is the skyrocketing cost to taxpayers. The price tag was $179 million when the system was proposed in 1996, but that figure could now be as much as $500 million.

State officials should admit the decision for the statewide radio network was made at a time when

it was impossible to know how quickly technology would change or what exactly the state needed. Although supporters argue the delays are due to calls through the years to expand the system’s scope, it still appears it can’t perform basic functions.

As recently as last month, law enforcement agents said they have been in dangerous situations with radios that they can’t trust will work. One incident involved the state attorney general’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigations. An undercover agent was in a precarious situation because his radio didn’t work. He was going to a meeting with a suspected drug dealer in Philadelphia and because he could not be reached by radio another agent had to catch up to him on the street to tell him the sting operation was called off because it was too dangerous.

Other agencies say the system is unreliable. State police troopers have experienced 161 radio service outages on average each month.

The concerns led to a rare joint meeting last month of four Senate committees that want to re-examine the project. These lawmakers should make certain they get answers to their questions and hopefully they will be more successful than some of their predecessors. From at least 2004, lawmakers have called for a full investigation of the radio system delay. Since then the system has received millions more in taxpayer money and other extended deadlines.

The current frustration is far from the optimism that officials held when the idea was first floated.

“This is a technology whose time has come,” Gov. Tom Ridge said in December 1996, predicting it would take four years to build the radio system. “The most dramatic advantages will be apparent in the property and lives saved through more effective radio communications during times of natural disaster.”

Unfortunately, the radio network was not fully operational during the blizzards and flooding of the last 10 years and also didn’t work when emergency workers rushed to the scene of the downed Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, 10 years later, George White, the state’s chief information officer who is overseeing the radio network, noted even with 931 towers and microcell sites, they are still finding spots where there is no coverage. Among other lingering problems, it doesn’t always work when portable radios are used. The system was designed for radios to be used in vehicles and powered by car batteries, not ones that are hand-carried on uneven terrain as is often encountered by game wardens and state park rangers.

Considering the rural area where Flight 93 crashed and that generally Pennsylvania, covered with mountains and forests, has a lot of uneven terrain, this would seem to be a major flaw at this point in the game.

Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, might have the best idea, suggesting the state consider selling the radio system or privatizing all or part of it.

The Corbett administration, while not to blame for decisions made 15 years ago, unfortunately now is left holding the bag.

Just two years ago, New York state canceled a $2 billion contract with M/A-COM, the same company used by Pennsylvania to build a radio network, due to ongoing and unresolved deficiencies with the system.

The governor should end the project. It is hard to imagine even if it is completed by the end of the year — the latest deadline — that all the major bugs will be worked out.

Officials should consider how to salvage what works and figure out if today’s technology allows a less expensive, easier way to provide emergency communications. The Legislature also should call for an investigation of the original contractor of the system and those state officials and employees involved in making the decision.

Pennsylvanians should not continue to pay for a flawed system.

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An official brochure from the State of Pennsylvania regarding the StarNet radio system is below.