Public Safety Advocate: FirstNet Needs to Come Out of the Closet!

Thu Jan 12 18:53:23 2017

One comment made at the FirstNet board meeting caught my attention and that is that FirstNet, while becoming well known within Public Safety circles, has not gained much, if any, public attention. I find this to be true even among many elected and appointed officials and certainly among the general public. In the investment community, companies I have been in contact with that are interested in one or more vendors in the wireless space seem to know something about FirstNet but the rest of the community that should understand the investment opportunities has not been made aware of FirstNet.

This brought me to the conclusion that many of you who are well versed in FirstNet, the importance of the nationwide broadband network, and the current status of the network, probably have access to someone in the general press who might be interested in this project from a public interest point of view. So, I would like to suggest that if you know someone who could provide an article to the general press community, or if your organization wants to issue a press release about your planned involvement with FirstNet, that would be a great thing to do.

Since I used to write a wireless industry investment newsletter for Forbes and then for many years contributed articles about the wireless industry to the Forbes website, I have written an article I will be submitting to Forbes for consideration. In this article I outline what FirstNet is and why is was formed but most importantly for Forbes readership, investment opportunities as FirstNet is rolled out, the network is being built, and devices and applications make their way into the Public Safety community. Also, news about devices with band 14 (FirstNet) capabilities to be used on the network as secondary users since first responders will not normally be consuming all of the network’s capacity even in major urban areas.

However, I am pointing out in this article, as any of you should, that while this network is much needed by the Public Safety community it will not replace existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks that are today’s vital communications channels for the Public Safety community, and that LMR will continue to be vital for a very long time. It is important that this message be included in anything that finds its way into print. Many Public Safety organizations are already finding it more difficult to obtain funding for the operation of their existing LMR networks and/or funds to replace, enhance, or build out a new regional network to improve interoperability. Many elected officials hear a new 4G network dedicated to Public Safety is coming and automatically make the leap to the idea that the city or county LMR network will no longer be required.

When I write for publications not aimed at the Public Safety community, including vendors and others, I always try to make the following points:

1) FirstNet was created by Congress to assist with Public Safety interoperability issues that have plagued the Public Safety community for more than forty years but which only became apparent to the general public after 9/11 and Katrina.
2) FirstNet will provide a new, secure network for Public Safety for data and video primarily, and then for voice services moving forward
3) It will NOT replace the need for existing land mobile radio networks for a very long time if ever
4) If it does become the only network Public Safety has available and it is disrupted due to a major storm, earthquake, or man-made disaster, it could cripple Public Safety’s ability to do its job and save lives until it is back in service.

For the Forbes article, I tried to get the attention of the investment community that typically invests in or follows the vendor community involved in wireless communications. However, in this case they may not understand that FirstNet is really the first new, nationwide network to be deployed in the United States in a number of years and that it will create investment opportunities they may not realize are coming.

What we need now, I believe, is for FirstNet and others to start issuing press releases with broader general interest and to use the resources on the Internet that are scanned by all of the news outlets for items of interest. This includes and many others. Using your favorite search engine and searching for “Where do I send my press release?” you will find a number of organizations that offer advice and assistance and pick up on items of interest and put them into circulation.

I firmly believe that once FirstNet is able to announce the RFP winner it will be time for FirstNet, the winner, and the entire Public Safety community to make a big splash in the general press to not only garner interest from investors and the general public but because these types of releases will also make their way up to elected officials in local, state, and even federal organizations and can only help with the visibility of FirstNet and the Public Safety community.

FirstNet needs to be ready to come out of the closest and start making noise when the public can see and hear it. Any agency on a local, state, or higher level that has some news about FirstNet involvement that is important for our own community and the general public should also become involved. One word of caution here, if you plan to send out a press release and it includes the names of companies, those companies need to be made aware of the proposed release before it is distributed. I would assume that FirstNet would ask for the same courtesy.

FirstNet will, hopefully, move to the next level early this year and when it happens we need to make sure everyone knows it is coming and why. FirstNet and the RFP winner/Partner will need assistance on a state and local level as this network is rolled out. Permits must be obtained, new equipment installed, and changes made to dispatch centers and Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). All of this will be easier for the network if those who need to lend their support have at least a basic understanding of FirstNet and don’t hear the word for the first time when a permit application crosses their desk.

This is the first nationwide network anywhere in the world that I know of that will be built out as a nationwide network but operated much like a local network in most communities. Local communities need to know what is coming and when. The best way to accomplish that is to start now with news that can be used by the general press both in print and online.

Andrew M. Seybold

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