Public Safety Needed FirstNet And Now Public Safety Needs 4.9GHz

By Richard Mirgon

As you know, I was part of the first responder community that fought for what is now FirstNet. We were engaged in the language of the legislation and worked with Congress to get it created. Specifically, it is a nationwide public safety broadband network built on the basis of a public-private partnership and as a single network. I was one of a few hundred that caused this to happen and was part of the leadership team. One item that was of extreme importance was that we needed to stand together to find a common solution. We spent days reviewing all the past attempts where cities, regions and states tried to build on their own networks. That list is long and mostly forgotten, but hundreds of millions of dollars were spent of taxpayer funds and they all failed. Primarily, it was too costly. Capital costs were in the hundreds of millions with annual costs totaling tens of millions of dollars. That is the proven reality of local builds or what the opposition is calling local control. 

So, what is it that got me thinking this morning? Well, I was looking at some of the public safety technology news feeds and I was reading an article about how much data 911 centers are going to be pushing to first responders in every jurisdiction nationwide. Things like video, floorplans, satellite images, augmented reality overlays and situational awareness applications just to name a few. That is a lot of data to push and to receive. Imagine 20, 30, 40 or more first responders needing to view the interior of a building. Everyone reading this knows, and yes “knows” that a commercial carrier won’t allow that much data without either throttling it (slowing your speeds or limiting data) or charging you more money to do it (again, that has been done already). Just look at all of the new applications that companies like Motorola and RapidSOS are building for public safety. It is amazing. You might even ask yourself what has caused this boom. Well, it was FirstNet. Public safety has a network that makes it a reality. Because of FirstNet we have seen an explosion in the tools that first responders use every day. And as most of you know, we need FirstNet because not only have commercial carriers throttled public safety, charge more for high data use, they have also turned off commercial cell sites because it cost them too much to operate and wasn’t profitable for them. Yet, at the same time, as other carriers turned off sites, FirstNet was building more sites and improving its coverage. 

This brings me to the topic of the day and why the 4.9GHz band needs FirstNet. The need to keep FirstNet robust and on the cutting edge. You do that with the allocation of the 4.9GHz public safety broadband network to FirstNet so that it is part of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network spectrum holdings. For FirstNet to meet the future needs of public safety, additional spectrum needs to be added to the FirstNet network. Full stop! Others inaccurately like to pontificate by saying that it will become AT&T spectrum. Not true. AT&T is the contractor to build and operate FirstNet. They don’t own FirstNet. This is an easy lie to tell by the opposition, but it is a blatant lie to say AT&T will own the spectrum. The reality is that FirstNet is governed by a Board of Public Safety Officials that must follow federal law in everything it does. We don’t know how they will enable it, but that is why they are there. Remember, the FirstNet Authority consists of a board of public safety officials, private sector executives and a professional staff. It is their job to do what is best for public safety. And so far, their record is outstanding. 5.5 million users on the network, 27,000 agencies and thousands of applications all in just a few short years. They have built the largest and most effective public safety broadband network in the world. Clearly, they can be trusted to do what is best for OUR network. They have proven it!

Yet with all that good work there are those that oppose it. Many would ask why would someone oppose something that has proven to be a major success for all of public safety? The simple answer is money. This coalition, that has become known as CERCI, has as its major supporters Verizon and T-Mobile. That is simple to understand. Many of those 5.5 million users left their commercial networks for a hardened public safety network that offers true priority, preemption and local control. The math is simple. Let’s say one of the carriers lost 1 million of those 5.5 million to FirstNet. Take whatever number you want to use as an average monthly cell phone bill and multiply by 1 million times 12 and that is at minimum lost revenue by that carrier. That number will be in the area of one half a billion dollars a year. Now that is corporate motivation! 

Next, you have utilities that want free spectrum to build their own networks. They need spectrum for their own operations and without it, they, as for-profit companies, must buy spectrum like any other company which would cost them billions of dollars. If they save that money with free spectrum, their stock price goes up and they make huge profits. Sometimes they use their excess spectrum for commercial use selling it to other companies. They are all motivated strictly for corporate gain. 

Then you have a couple of public safety associations that are supporting CERCI. I can’t tell you exactly why they have partnered with Verizon, T-Mobile, Edison Electric, and others and have proposed to share our public safety spectrum with the critical infrastructure industry (CII), (and yes that is part of their position.)  but I do think it is time for them, the public safety board members of those associations, to explain how allowing CII, which includes utilities, transportation, commercial facilities, financial sector, defense industry and others, to use your spectrum is good for you. I also know that only those states, counties and cities with money could even try and build, but history has shown it will fail. I know that the average first responder will never get access under their plan because they can’t afford to build or effectively manage such networks. I do know that once CII gets access to and uses this spectrum, we will never get them off it. 

Here is a little side note related to those few public safety groups supporting CERIC. Representatives supporting the allocation of the spectrum to FirstNet have asked to talk with the boards of the few associations supporting CERCI and have been denied that opportunity. Is that true? If so, why don’t they want to hear both sides? I have also been told that members inside those organizations don’t know why they are supporting CERCI and the sharing of the spectrum. The vast majority of the public safety associations are supporting the allocation of this spectrum to FirstNet. Why are just a couple taking this other path that would cost millions of dollars to deploy?

Look, at the end of the day, we have already tried to build local control networks – been there, done that. Proven and documented. Multiple major cities spent tens of millions of their taxpayer money along with tens of millions of federal grant money to try and they failed. All wasted money. Again, this isn’t speculation – this is fact. My question to any chief officer or sheriff is this: Are you willing to take tens of millions of dollars to build a network that may or may not work when you could use that money for staff to provide direct response to your communities? Are you willing to take the heat from your city councils or your constituents that this service could have come at a lower price from FirstNet? Local builds are just that, they are local and leave behind the vast majority of first responders across the country. The only way to get nationwide coverage and usage is with our only Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, FirstNet.


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