Thu Jun 23 20:08:23 2016
On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, the U. S. Senate had its chance to call on FirstNet and others to provide updates on progress being made. This was a subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet hearing chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss). The hearing was titled “FirstNet, an Oversight update on the Status of the Public Safety Broadband Network.” This type of oversight hearing is required in the law and the House recently held its own hearing.
The idea of a Senate hearing or any congressional hearing, for that matter, is to provide information to those on the committee holding the hearing and of course to any others who have an interest. Those who are lined up as witnesses must write their remarks and pre-submit them to the committee so they can be read and questions formulated. At the actual hearing, the testimony is word-for-word what has already been presented, and only during question and answer sessions are there an opportunities for additional or follow-up remarks or information. Also during the hearing the committee members usually send a staffer or two to take notes and the actual committee members come in and out of the hearing so they can be counted as being present and so they can ask questions that, for the most part, their staffers have framed for them. While it is not a perfect system it is what we have and FirstNet is treated no differently from any other organization reporting its progress to the committee that has oversight.
There were four witnesses at this hearing: Mike Poth, CEO of FirstNet; Jeffrey McLeod, Director of Homeland Security and Public Safety Division, National Governors Association; Major General Arthur Logan, the Single point of contact for FirstNet for the State of Hawaii, and the Adjutant General for Hawaii; and Andrew Katsaros, Assistant Inspector General for Audit, U.S. Department of Commerce (which is the organization within the federal government that has direct responsibility for FirstNet.)
The FirstNet CEO updated the committee on FirstNet’s progress and told the committee that barring unforeseen complications, FirstNet intends to award a partner contract by November 1 of this year. He then discussed the state, tribal, territory, and federal consultations that have been occurring in phases 1 and 2 of the state consultations. He also discussed the network as a catalyst for innovation and the Internet of Things (IoT), and ended by asking the committee to continue to support FirstNet’s efforts.
The speaker from the National Governors Association (NGA) made a few statements worth repeating. First was the fact that the NGA believes the states‚ choice to opt out is a “false choice” because of the unknown financial risks inherent with building out and managing the Radio Access Portion (RAN) in a state. He then turned to his concerns about rural coverage for the network, when it will be offered, and cost estimates for the service. These are all good questions but answers will have to wait until FirstNet and its partner sit down across from each other and have the types of discussions that should result in answers to these questions.
The testimony from the gentleman from Hawaii was, for the most part, a positive report on the FirstNet and state consultation and data gathering process while the Assistant Inspector General’s comments were you would expect: FirstNet is doing better but is still not perfect and we are working with FirstNet to ensure it adheres to all of the Federal Rules and Regulations, nothing earth shattering, which is a good thing!
It is tough trying to convey all that is happening in the world of FirstNet to those who have been elected to serve us. I was interested to hear that the NGA was concerned about an issue that has been of concern to me as well. During 2017, there will be a number of new governors taking office, and perhaps some changes in those who are working with FirstNet from many states. It is possible that some of the momentum will be lost for some of the states and that the process for the opt-in or opt-out decision could become based on the political climate rather than the needs of the Public Safety community. My advice is still the same for all of the states: See what FirstNet and the partner are offering, accept it but make sure it can and will be expanded and updated as necessary going forward. Trying to go it alone, even with a vendor that is convincing in its rhetoric that it can provide a better system for a given state is still not a bet I would want to take to Las Vegas!
The November 1 date for an award by FirstNet is aggressive given the size of this undertaking but it has recently demonstrated it can move forward more rapidly than many federal agencies so I hope it can make this deadline as well. If not, I am sure it will be soon after that when we will learn who the partner is. The award will mean yet another milestone has been reached.
In the past few weeks I have received some emails, not many, but some, from people who believe FirstNet will fail, and that it is simply a long way around to putting the spectrum back out to bid for a commercial carrier that will build it and find a way to accommodate the Public Safety community. Having been part of this and observing it for a long time, I believe those who think this will turn out badly for Public Safety are wrong, and I believe after FirstNet is up and running they will see FirstNet got it done in spite of all of the distractions along the way.
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