An attorney for AT&T, Inc., is complaining about the release of an unredacted version of a report prepared by a consulting firm for the state of Vermont before it decided to opt into the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system last week (TR Daily, Nov. 29). The report concluded, as did another report by an outside party, that the state should opt into the network rather than seeking to build its own radio access network (RAN). AT&T is FirstNet’s network partner and will build the RANs for all opt-in states.
Stephen Whitaker, a Vermont resident and open government advocate who is a party in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking FirstNet records, has argued that the FirstNet process has been too secretive and that opting in would not be a good deal for the state or its residents. Last week, he released an unredacted version of a FirstNet report prepared by the Coeur Business Group through a contract with the Vermont Agency of Digital Services. He also released a report done for the state by Televate LLC, a public safety consulting firm, which also recommended the state opt into FirstNet.
In a letter dated Wednesday to Mr. Whitaker, William Dodge, a Vermont-based attorney for AT&T at the law firm of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, said that AT&T “has learned that you may have come into possession of confidential and proprietary information, including company trade secrets. Based on public reports of a November 29 meeting of the Vermont House Energy and Technology Committee, we have learned you are in possession of an unredacted report commissioned by the Vermont Agency of Digital Services (and prepared by the Coeur Business Group) regarding FirstNet.
“We respect your interest in FirstNet and its implementation in the State of Vermont, and your right as a Vermont resident to be as fully informed about the program as you desire. However, your interest does not create an unfettered right to review and/or disclose all FirstNet materials, including those that contain trade secret and proprietary information,” Mr. Dodge added. “Legally you should not be in possession of, or use, this information without permission from AT&T, which has not been granted.
“Based on these public reports, we are concerned that you may disclose (if you have not already done so) the unredacted report to the media, including VT Digger. In light of the trade secret and proprietary information contained in the unredacted report, we insist that you immediately take the following steps: (i) make no further use of the unredacted report or any information obtained from the unredacted report; (ii) not disclose any information obtained from the unredacted report; (iii) return or destroy all copies of the unredacted report within your possession or control; (iv) destroy any information obtained from the unredacted report that may now be memorialized or stored in some other format within your possession or control; and (v) demand the same of any third party to whom you may have already provided a copy (in whole or in part) of the unredacted report.”
The letter concluded, “We would like to resolve this matter amicably, but we have an obligation to protect our proprietary information. Please confirm in writing (by response letter or email) within two business days of your receipt of this letter that you have returned or destroyed any copies of the unredacted report within your possession or control, and taken the other actions set forth above. We look forward to your response.”
In response to the demand, Mr. Whitaker told TR Daily, “I’ve shared the Tim LaFaver-Coeur Group report out of necessity to shine light [on] how flawed AT&T’s plan is for Vermont. The also flawed so-called Independent Review report was prepared by a 30 year SBC/AT&T executive who did not disclose these prior affiliations. His report formed a basis for Governor [Phil] Scott’s opt-in decision and therefore must be widely examined in every detail and refuted where necessary.”
Mr. Whitaker also said that AT&T appears “to be attempting to cast the entire ‘Independent Review’ report as if it were under their control as an AT&T trade secret when most all of it is work made for hire for the State of Vermont by Tim LaFaver/Coeur Group. The fact that the report, especially the miniaturized tables, contain significant details of the shortcomings and risks to public safety of the AT&T plan makes the claims of trade secrets all the more specious.”
He added, “Many of the redactions [in that version of the report] are nonsensical or conceal AT&T’s plan weaknesses and Rivada[‘s] strengths.”
Rivada Networks LLC was hoping to convince Vermont to seek to opt out and contract with it to build its RAN, as New Hampshire announced yesterday that it would do (TR Daily, Dec. 7).
The references to Mr. LaFaver, who is a senior consulting partner with Coeur Business Group and was the engagement lead on the report prepared for Vermont, refers to the fact that between 1982 and 2013, he worked for AT&T or predecessor companies for 26 of those 31 years.
TR Daily sought comment from Mr. LaFaver on the criticism of his background, but he did not respond, nor did John Quinn, Vermont’s secretary of digital services and the state’s chief information officer
On Tuesday, Mr. Quinn sent an e-mail to parties seeking information on where Mr. Whitaker obtained the copy of the unredacted version of the report prepared by the Coeur Business Group.
“The release puts the state at risk of a lawsuit with financial consciences,” Mr. Quinn wrote. “You are in this email because you are one of just a few people to have received a copy of the report. It is not up to any of you to decide what is released and what is not. Terry LaValley [the state’s FirstNet single point of contact and chair of Vermont’s Public Safety Broadband Network Commission] was very clear that the report was not public and the specific reasons that the IR was withheld.
“I fully expect a public records request of all commission members and members with access to the report, to turn over any communication between commission members and Stephen Whitaker,” Mr. Quinn added. “You are all subject to the records law as a commission member. … If you were the one who turned over a copy of the report, I would appreciate an email letting me know. We can work with the AG’s office on the circumstances of why you released the IR.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org