Public Safety Advocate: Politics and FirstNet

Thu Oct 27 19:32:47 2016

This past week the National Governor’s Association (NGA) sent the states a draft of a document addressed to FirstNet that will tell FirstNet and the selected partner vendor how they are to deal with the states. This includes keeping the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) in the loop at all times to ensure the governor receives the best possible information to determine whether the state will opt in or out. When I looked at the distribution list the NGA used to send this to the various states, I noticed it included everyone in the chain except the SPOCs! Perhaps the NGA should follow its own advice!

Public Safety community members I am hearing from are becoming more and more concerned that politics will play an unfortunate role in the future of FirstNet. The first issue on the table is to make sure all states are treated fairly and receive the same considerations for the plans. If states think a neighboring state is being offered more it could create an issue that could make the opt-in/opt-out decision more complex than whether FirstNet is being responsive to their needs.

Next is the disconnect between many states and local jurisdictions. Many locals feel they have been left out of the loop. In one state I attended a number of meetings where the state and FirstNet were presenting, but the state made no comments about receiving input from the various local agencies. There is also an interesting political twist to this. In a recent survey of states and cities, it was found that in many cases the state government is heavy with members of one political party and the city or county is heavy with the other party. This could easily cause further issues between states and jurisdictions and impact the process and progress of FirstNet.

Will states include local jurisdictions in the approval process when FirstNet and the partner provide each state with a “state plan?” One issue with the opt-in/opt-out timing is that states don’t have much time so perhaps the notion of consulting with locals won’t be pursued. However, at the end of the day, it is the locals who are the major system customers. Common sense says that in order to build a successful network your customers have to be happy with the results. The last thing the Public Safety community needs is a network that is built and not fully utilized by local jurisdictions because it does not provide coverage where it is needed. I, for one, do not expect every jurisdiction in every state to be happy with the coverage on day one, but I do expect that over time coverage will be expanded to meet their requirements. This is one reason I have been saying the FirstNet/Partner plan should allow for local and state involvement in expanding the network in the future.

The federal government has a terrible record when it comes to a project such as this. Some of you may remember back to the days of the nationwide, all-encompassing Federal Land Mobile Radio Network commonly known as IWIN but known within the Department of Justice as the Law Enforcement Wireless Communications Network (LEWC). It was a total flop, yet the feds tried multiple times to get if off the ground. If I recall correctly, there is a partial segment of the network operating in Oregon or the state of Washington but the entire effort collapsed under its own weight.

FirstNet is different, at least we all hope it is. First, from the board down through the ranks the folks are dedicated to making this network the best it can be, as soon as they can build it. I have to assume the vendor chosen as the prime partner will have the same sense that this is about first responders. Of course, the vendor would not be bidding if it did not expect a reasonable return on the $billions it will spend. Even so, when the smoke clears the network will hopefully be what first responders want and need and the vendor partner will be able to turn a profit. However, if the vendor cuts corners where the network might not be self-sustaining, everyone will lose.

Once FirstNet has made the award and the partner vendor is handed the final approved contract, I hope the politics will be minimized so work can proceed and the first responder community can finally reap the benefits of a network designed and built for and about Public Safety.

Andrew M. Seybold

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