By Richard Mirgon, Public Safety Consultant
As a Verizon 911 customer for many years in the late 90’s and early 2000 they provided very good service. That ended when they decided to no longer directly market to the 911 industry. Their dedicated public safety teams went away and public safety became no more than just another customer. When it came to other Verizon services in the rural parts of California and Nevada it was known as “BAU” more specifically “Business As Usual”. What I learned is that it meant no investment in our parts of rural America. To get any action out of Verizon required intervention by state regulatory agencies. I was at public meetings where commitments were made that were never executed. This same story played out in other jurisdictions across the country where Verizon had back away from public safety.
I also recall during the battle for the D Block, in a meeting that was held in Herndon Virginia, a Verizon representative stood up and proclaimed, in front of public safety and White House representatives, that they would never offer priority or preemption on their wireless network for public safety. This was then followed up by the disinterest in bidding for the FirstNet contract. I was told many times that they didn’t want the burden of a contract, which if they chose to compete it, would be after the award of the contract. Well here we are.
I think this leaves a lot of unanswered questions. If they care so much about public safety why didn’t they bid for the FirstNet contract? If they thought public safety was so important to our country why did they categorically say they would not offer priority and preemption that day in Herndon? Are they simply trying to disrupt the FirstNet model? Or just trying to hold on to a customer base for revenue? I don’t have answers but here is what I do know.
In reviewing their document, “Delivering a Public Safety Grade Wireless Network”, it is far from any type of hard commitment. If you take that document and insert any other carrier’s name they will tell you the same thing. It is all hyperbole. One clear example is where they say, “We have determined that our commercial wireless network meets these guidelines in almost every aspect…”. Really, they decided, not FirstNet, not an independent entity, but they decided and in “almost every aspect”. So, in what aspect, power, security, wind load? “Almost” just isn’t good enough. This document is 5 pages of why they think their commercial network is good enough for public safety and an effort to get you to believe their rhetoric.
One of the key factors here is who is protecting Public Safety with a Verizon “public safety network”? No one is. The fox is watching the hen house. They may in the future try to put “lipstick on this pig” by creating some advisory council or finding some group to put a stamp of approval on them. However, there is zero oversight protecting the public safety mission. Also, here is what they don’t have.
What they don’t have is FirstNet. They don’t have FirstNet overseeing their nationwide public safety interoperable wireless network. They don’t have a contract that guarantees a specific level of public safety grade performance. And yes, people will say “gee we haven’t seen the FirstNet – AT&T contract so we don’t know what it is”. To date that is true. We may not know the specifics of the contract but what we do know is that we have people like Sue Swenson, Jeff Johnson, Mike Poth, TJ Kennedy and dozens more experienced first responders at FirstNet protecting our interests every day. What we do know is most of these people have had distinguished careers in public safety and held national leadership positions representing their discipline. What we do know is that AT&T has been there for public safety. They fought for the business, won and changed AT&T for public safety. They earned it by meeting the rigorous criteria in the FirstNet RFP.
So, I have been hard on Verizon. You can’t knock the fact they have built a robust “commercial” network. I have also been on the public safety and local government customer end for many years. Going back to my first paragraph, making commitments by a major corporation means very little without a contract or regulatory compliance. Bottom line, who will be their watchdog? FirstNet is our protection from corporate policy shift. With Verizon or any other carrier trying to compete with FirstNet there is none.
Next week in Part 2 I take a look at another key issue related to Verizon’s public safety proposal.
Richard Mirgon is a Public Safety consultant focused on FirstNet. He is a Past President of APCO International and has over 35 years of public safety and first responder experience. For more information about the author please go to http://www.presidential-partners.com/the-partners/