By W. Brent Lee, Law Enforcement Official, Retired
In watching the recent subcommittee hearings on FirstNet, one thing really hit me. AT&T Senior VP Chris Sambar made a statement that should hit each and every public safety person in the country. He stated, “this isn’t a spectrum deal. It is about serving first responders. We are building something special for them.” I believe we all need to take a close look at what this has become, lest we forget what brought us to this point today.
We all know this came to be because of the 9/11 commission report as it related to interoperability. We also know that nothing is free and that any solution would result in some company making a profit. In fact, companies like Motorola and Harris have been making large profits over the years from Public Safety by providing Land Mobile Radio (LMR). One of the clear goals of the FirstNet legislation was to reduce cost with the use of Standards and by finding a more efficient way to provide services to Public Safety. So why the sudden concern about profit. Yes, AT&T is a for profit business and will make money from the FirstNet contract. Since that seems to be an issue lately with others, I pose this question. Had Rivada won the contract wouldn’t they too be making a profit and isn’t that what they are attempting to do now? Seriously folks, whomever the contract was awarded to would make money. Don’t you think that Verizon’s motive is to have the market share of public safety subscribers and make money? Even though the ‘interoperability’ issue that started all of this continues, isn’t that what Verizon is doing in trying to undermine FirstNet so they can make a profit. If they cared about public safety they would have bid. But instead, they are trying to undermine the FirstNet business model.
Let’s now look at the issue of “we are building something special for them”. It isn’t for the State SPOC’s (Single Point of Contact). It isn’t for some State engineer with an idea or product that may or may not accomplish what FirstNet will. Let’s face it. It isn’t really even for AT&T. The “them” are all the first responders and American citizens who will benefit from this network. It is for the men and women who put their lives on the line each and every day to serve and protect the citizens of this country. Police, Fire, and EMS services are those who benefit from FirstNet.
I fully understand the need for States to be concerned about cost. I also understand the need to consider alternatives. Many have done just that. States have known this has been coming since the award. Granted they may not have had exact financial figures but then again, how can there be an expectation of “exact” for something that hasn’t ever existed?
I don’t understand why a company like Verizon, who wanted nothing to do with the spectrum and public safety and a company (Rivada) that bid on the FirstNet RFP, wants to continue to create division among Public Safety and potentially extend the problem of interoperability that this will remedy. People talk about competition and at a certain level we have tried and failed. P25 was to be that solution. It failed because of competition. It failed because there wasn’t a single entity to oversee the technology and use. That oversight today is FirstNet and their mechanism to manage the technology is AT&T. AT&T was selected through an open, fair and competitive process. If Verizon wanted to compete that was the time and place. Today the only purpose it would appear to have is to disrupt the first responders Public Safety network with the outcome of putting first responders and citizens at risk.
Lest we forget, isn’t it time to remember those it will benefit, and I don’t mean financially.
W. Brent Lee is a retired Law Enforcement Official, public safety consultant and Past President of APCO International with over 30 years of first responder and public safety experience. Having spent nearly half of his career managing communications functions Brent is a major supporter of FirstNet and all it will bring to public safety.