Public Safety Advocate August 12 2016

Fri Aug 12 13:55:23 2016

Fact Checking 

During my last few years of high school and first years of college I worked for my father who was a pioneer in the use of computers for typesetting. I always have to laugh because his company was called ROCAPPI, the longest acronym I have ever seen. It stood for “Research on Computer Applications in the Printing and Publishing Industry.” The reason I go back so far in time is because when I was working for him I came to know some of the people at Reader’s Digest and was really intrigued that there were a number of “fact checking” experts in their offices. These fact checkers’ job was to verify that all of the content it published was as close to 100% accurate as possible.

I bring this up this week because it is obvious that The Atlantic has no fact checkers on its staff. If it did, it never would have published a recent article by Steven Brill entitled, “The $47 Billion Network That’s Already Obsolete.” The article purports to be about FirstNet but the only thing about the story that is correct is, in fact, that Mr. Brill spelled the word FirstNet correctly.

I won’t waste a lot of keystrokes on my rebuttal of this weird account of what he thinks happened, and it is obvious that he did no research nor did he talk to any of those who worked on what is now FirstNet for the many years before Congress created FirstNet. If he had he would have found out many things including that Public Safety interoperability issues pre-dated 9/11 by more than thirty years, that at the time FirstNet was being discussed the spectrum being sought to augment existing Public Safety broadband spectrum or the “D” block was valued at less than $3 Billion, and that the cost of building the network beyond the allocated $7 Billion from proceeds of spectrum auctions was to be borne by a partner who would build the network and operate as a partner to FirstNet. In return, the partner will be able to make use of excess spectrum on a secondary basis, which will provide the partner with a new income stream.

I was pleased to see that the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPTSC) issued a press release on August 10, 2016. This release was written and approved by some of the best of the best in the NPSTC organization as well as the chair of the FirstNet Public Safety Advisory Committee, Chief (Ret) Harlin McEwen. Had Mr. Brill bothered to contact any of the authors of the press release, especially Chief McEwen who is known as the Father of FirstNet by his peers, Mr. Brill would have, I am sure, written a very different article. Or perhaps not, as it appears his writing style (from what I can gather from the Internet) has been one of writing articles in a negative light with little or no fact checking.

The article can be found at and the NPSTC press release can be found at A few quotes from the NPSTC press release are in order, and I hope the editor-in-chief and the publisher of The Atlantic has not only heard about the press release but read it.

The first paragraph of the press release states, “The very critical article relative to FirstNet published in the September 2016 issue of is far from reality and has generated a lot of discussion among the public safety community. As most public safety officials know, in addition to being inaccurate, the author failed to capture public safety’s longstanding advocacy efforts and hard work toward a dedicated, reliable mission critical wireless broadband network. In fact, there is not one single quote or testimonial from a public safety representative in the story.” Another quote, which is two paragraphs in length, I think sums up the Public Safety community’s view of both the author and the publication that would publish this article without any fact checking having been done. The Brill says, “FirstNet is in such disarray that 15 years after the problem it is supposed to solve was identified (the September 11, 2011 lack of interoperability), it is years from completion-and it may never be completed at all.”

What a ridiculous and false statement. Congress did not authorize a solution until 2012 and since then tremendous progress has been made. FirstNet published a Request for Proposals (RFP) in January 2016 with a deadline for responses in May. Publicly issued statements by three companies/consortiums indicate they have responded to the RFP. FirstNet is reportedly in the process of reviewing the proposals with a goal of issuing a contract by November 1, 2016.

The Public Safety community is facing a number of issues and trying to deal with elected officials who do not understand the difference between a Public Safety radio and a cell phone. Further, elected officials do not understand that during incidents the commercial cellular networks can be up and running yet not accessible due to so many people trying to make a call at once. Public Safety needs this network. FirstNet and a partner will make it happen, and yes, perhaps it has taken longer than it should have, mostly because of gobs of federal red-tape, but the end result will save lives and property. Lives of not only first responders but the citizens they serve. Someday that might even include Steven Brill.

Next week is APCO in Orlando. I will be among the missing and my weekly Public Safety Advocate will not be published next Friday. We will be in Maine with my sister and her family and my mother to celebrate her 99th birthday. The PSA will return the following week and should be full of new about happenings at the APCO Conference.

Back in two weeks!


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