Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet, AT&T, and IWCE

Mon Apr 3 15:56:05 2017

At the top of the list was the contract award made by FirstNet and the Department of Commerce to AT&T for the building, operating, and updating of the FirstNet nationwide broadband network. The two events, The Board of Directors vote on Tuesday, March 28, and the signing of the actual contract on Thursday, March 30, 2017, mark an end of a long, hard struggle and the start of the even more difficult project of pleasing all of the states, territories, and tribal nations with network coverage plans followed by the actual construction and operation of the network. More on this historic set of events below.

Meanwhile, the IWCE show held in Las Vegas last week was missing a number of top FirstNet speakers but FirstNet did have a booth. I am told the crowd was larger than last year, the exhibit hall full of great vendors with products, and the sessions, as usual, were outstanding and well attended. The atmosphere at IWCE this year can only be described as buoyant, everyone there being aware of the FirstNet happenings. On Wednesday, FirstNet President TJ Kennedy, who had flown in for his keynote, was fired up and gave a very impassioned talk before getting back on a plane to DC for the contract signing. All in all, it was a great IWCE for all.

By the Numbers

The IWCE event was filled with numbers of significance:

IWCE held its 40th-year birthday party on Wednesday night.

Chief Harlin McEwen (Ret—several times over) was honored by IWCE with the lifetime achievement award for his 20 years of work promoting what has become FirstNet.

At IWCE, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) celebrated its 20 years of service to the Public Safety community. This is an all-volunteer organization made up of industry vendors, consultants, and the most important groups of those directly involved in the Public Safety community who give hundreds of hours each year to help move Public Safety communications forward.

Eleven years ago, Morgan O’Brien stood on the IWCE stage and made the first public comments about Public Safety needing a nationwide broadband network.

For my part, I celebrated with them and thought back to the fact that it was in 1981 that I wrote my first article on Public Safety interoperability problems and 10 years since I signed on to assist the Public Safety community to obtain the D block (10 MHz of additional broadband spectrum) and the funding needed to build the network.

FirstNet folks successfully negotiated a contract with AT&T after what must have seemed like the longest 5 years of their lives.

FirstNet and AT&T

If I thanked everyone who took part in the efforts since the early days I would run out of time and my readers would run out of patience I am sure. The events leading up to this contract signing have certainly included a large number of people who were either directly involved or supported the efforts of the Public Safety community. The FirstNet Board of Directors and staff have worked tirelessly to make this happen and I often wonder how FirstNet attracted such dedicated people for the low level of compensation and the tough hours of travel they have endured, but they stuck with it and made it happen. If I could I would give each of them a presidential award, after Harlin McEwen of course, and the Public Safety Alliance (PSA), which got the ball rolling in Congress, with VP Biden, and with the FCC. Back then of the four major wireless networks, two, AT&T and Verizon, were highly supportive of the PSA’s efforts. The other two networks were in the camp of wanting the D block auctioned primarily I think because they had not been successful bidders on the balance of the 700-MHz spectrum.

There are two people who need to be mentioned here. The first is Alan Caldwell who for more than 20 years was the senior advisor for government relations for the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Alan taught all of us involved in the PSA how to best deal with Congress and he also knew every tunnel between the House and Senate buildings and was able to get us on the train to and from the White House. He was well respected by members of Congress and was as close to a mentor for all of us who were novices in dealing with elected officials as anyone could have been.

The other is Ed Parkinson who now resides at FirstNet. When I first went to DC Ed worked for Representative King (R-NY) as a staffer for, I believe, the DHS sub-committee. Ed became a staunch supporter of what we were trying to do and he also taught us a lot, especially about spending more time with the telecommunications staffers than with the congressional representatives themselves because it is the staffers who make the recommendation to support or not a bill based on their knowledge of the subject. Ed has also been a real asset for FirstNet. My hat is off to both of these gentlemen and many more!

The Contract

We were all at IWCE while the action for FirstNet was in DC. The information we were receiving was mostly via the news and then on Thursday there was a FirstNet town hall where we learned the first details of what has to be a huge contract with many details. However, the one that stood out most for me was where AT&T has said that the day after a governor opts in, AT&T will make its entire LTE and other networks available to the Public Safety community and will provide pre-emption for Public Safety. This was a great move on AT&T’s part because it will enable Public Safety to get started with AT&T, and then as band 14 is built out, to be able to move seamlessly to band 14 and back to the AT&T network during the next 4-5 years of network build-out. If nothing else, this was a smart move because it may be the tipping point for a state sitting on the fence considering opting in or opting out. All I can say is whoever at AT&T included that gem in the RFP response should be given a raise!

Winding Down

During IWCE I was approached four times by a member of a state FirstNet team. The comments were the same in each case. A high-ranking member of the Rivada team had been to see the governor and the governor’s staff turned to the FirstNet team for their reaction to what the governor had been told. In each case the answer was to provide my recent opt-in, opt-out paper and all four of them said to me, “Problem solved.” Obviously, that type of feedback makes what I have been doing every week for years worthwhile for me! Now let’s get this network up and running, but let’s continue to support all of our LMR networks as well. The result will be a Public Safety community that has multiple communications options available during routine times, during incidents, and when an incident involves multiple jurisdictions that all show up with FirstNet-equipped communications tools so information and coordination at the incident can be carried out quickly and efficiently. After all, that is what all of this has been about!

All of you who have taken part in this journey, sometimes hard and long, stand up and have someone pat you on the back. It has taken each and every one of us in some form or another to come to where we are. However, remember we still have the actual network to build and to bring up and operational. We can afford to take a breather for a couple of days but then it is back to work!

Andrew M. Seybold

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