Cox Business at odds with New Orleans over ‘smart city’ contract after winning bidder drops out | Local policy
Hours after a private consortium pulled out of talks for a “smart city” contract in New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration said it would start over with a new solicitation.
Not so fast, the second highest bidder said Monday night. Cox Business, a subsidiary of cable giant Cox Communications, New Orleans’ main internet service provider, now says it should be next to take on the task of expanding broadband access and installing an Internet-connected infrastructure throughout the city.
This stance could cast doubt on the city’s next step on broadband. The city had previously rejected Cox’s ‘smart city’ plan as being far too expensive, but in his Monday email, Cox told the city’s purchasing manager he would have to negotiate a deal based on demand. of city proposals, or RFP.
“As the second most responsive responder to the smart city tender, and in accordance with the terms of the tender itself, Cox is entitled to be awarded the contract and looks forward to work with the city to develop its smart city program,” the company said.
The apparent dispute between the mayor’s office and Cox comes as the city council prepares to grill one of Cantrell’s top aides at a special meeting on Wednesday.
The council assigned Jonathan Rhodes, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Services, to discuss his role in crafting the solicitation that was ultimately awarded to the Smart+ Connected NOLA Consortium.
Consortium members include telecommunications giant Qualcomm, investment firm JLC Infrastructure and other vendors, including many local companies.
Last week, it emerged that Rhodes had provided what the city called “pro bono” advice to Qualcomm on a smart city plan in Los Angeles through a private company he controls, along with time he was preparing the solicitation for the smart city of New Orleans.
In the Monday email, Cox vice president Leigh King said he was aware of the ongoing investigation into Rhodes’ role in the solicitation process and pledged his cooperation.
Cox’s assertion that he is “entitled” to a contract with the city appears to be at odds with the city’s general stance on solicitations. Under a 2020 executive order from Cantrell, the city says that if contract talks with a first-place bidder fail, it can move to negotiations with a second-place bidder or cancel the procurement process altogether. .
Prior to the consortium’s exit from the smart city plan, Cox filed a protest against the city’s decision to grant contract negotiation rights to Smart+Connected NOLA. In a formal response to Cox’s protest, which was ultimately overruled, Rhodes was highly critical of Cox’s plan.
Rhodes said Cox’s plan could have cost up to $150 million and did not include disadvantaged local businesses as partners. In contrast, he said, the consortium had promised to install Internet-connected streetlights and traffic lights at no upfront cost to the city.
“Cox offered a $69 million cost fiber solution to the city, astronomically out of step with the kind of cost-neutral approach the city was looking for,” Rhodes said. “In fact, all of Cox’s proposed ‘solutions’ would be very expensive for the City.”
Cox, on the other hand, said the consortium only succeeded in making its plan cost-neutral to the city by omitting an expensive fiber network construction plan that appeared to be required as part of the solicitation. the city.
If Cox had known fiber wasn’t necessary, the company said it would have come up with a very different plan with “significantly lower costs.”