By Richard Mirgon, Public Safety Consultant
For some of us it seems like it was just yesterday when public safety was introduced to this new cellphone that acted like a public safety radio. I remember telling this guy from a company called Nextel that it wasn’t mission critical and I continued to explain all the reasons why public safety wouldn’t use it. Slowly this company grew and we ended up “trying” these fancy high-tech devices and lo and behold there were a number of public safety mission profiles it was ideal for. All this was the brain child of Morgan O’Brien the founder of Nextel. He had a plan, hired smart people who understood public safety and he quietly executed his plan. With class and style that changed public safety forever.
Now my point here isn’t the technology. My point is a company and how it changed and its people changed public safety. It’s about embracing the public safety mission. Finding people who understood the mission and walked quietly into the public safety world with the attitude of “let us show”. They revealed to us how technology can make first responders safer. They showed us how they could provide the service public safety needed and how it could compete in the public safety world.
Contrast this to the other extreme, Verizon. A company who wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t even compete for FirstNet and now demanding to have a seat at the table. A company who has not only abandoned many of its current customers because there wasn’t enough revenue, but they have also abandoned public safety in many parts of the country. The expression a friend of mine uses is “that yappy yard dog” — all the noise with nothing behind it when it comes to public safety support.
The reality is they are an excellent consumer wireless carrier. In many parts of the country they provide valuable and quality services to public safety in areas that are profitable for them. They even provided excellent service to my agency, until they didn’t. They continue to talk about bidding and competing for State RFP’s. However, to date every person I have talked to, in states where they have submitted, tell me that they were non-substantive submittals. They say they’re in one day and the next day they don’t execute. The only reason I can think of for this type of behavior from a company is to be disruptive. There is a lot of talk, but no action.
Where does that leave us today. With a company now innovating and changing public safety much in the way Nextel Did. A company that has found the right people. A company that found a way to make FirstNet a success. That Company obviously is AT&T. AT&T not only figured out how to make the economics of FirstNet work, but they have made a 25-year commitment to every first responder in the country. They have shown their sincerity through their actions. That first action was the commitment of money. Years ago, I recall a wise person saying that if you want to understand what a person’s priorities are look at how they spend their money. That will tell you what they view as important. The same holds true for companies. Look at the investment AT&T is making compared to other companies. A commitment worth approximately $40 Billion.
Ultimately, two factors will show public safety’s support for FirstNet and AT&T. First will be opt-in. As of now 38 states have seen the value and opted in with rumors of two or more states joining early this week. Several of these states have gone through an extensive review process to include proposals from other competitors with AT&T coming out the clear winner. Second will be adoption. AT&T still must show the value and prove their ability to serve one agency at a time, in each state and territory one by one.
AT&T has documented and demonstrated their plans to FirstNet and the states. They are executing on those plans the same quiet and committed way Morgan O’Brien did two decades ago. We see the proof of that every week as more states opt-in. Verizon, there isn’t a plan. There never has been a plan. All we hear is idle rhetoric that is not unlike the annoying neighbor yapping dog.
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/