Public Safety Advocate: Public Safety and FirstNet’s Re-Education Task

Thu Nov 10 12:06:26 2016

The elections are over. I won’t go into what the changing of the guard might or might not mean for the Public Safety community or FirstNet. Instead I want to concentrate on the education and re-education process for all of the new faces and staffs that will be emerging within the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government, House of Representatives, Senate, state governors, city mayors, council members, and county supervisors.

FirstNet exists today as a result of the extraordinary efforts of the Public Safety community through the Public Safety Spectrum Trust (PSST) and the Public Safety Alliance (PSA). These organizations spent month after month for several years educating our law makers, the executive branch of the government, governors, mayors, and a host of others about the need for FirstNet and Public Safety broadband wireless communications.

It did not hurt that the 9/11 Commission Report recommended that Public Safety communications be updated. And it did not hurt that there was a minor earthquake in Virginia that crippled commercial cellular networks and Congress saw firsthand the effects of jammed networks, or that Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy pointed out the weakness of commercial communications systems and Public Safety interoperability issues. But it was the feet on the street, the long meetings, articles, and more that drove home the need for FirstNet so that Congress finally enacted a bill that provided Public Safety with most but not all of what it wanted and needed.

For the next few months the Public Safety community and FirstNet will have to turn some of its attention to educating the newly elected folks who could impact FirstNet and the work that has been done. There will be new FirstNet board members for sure. Three of the seats on the board are for federal officials that are appointed and not elected. They include a seat for the Department of Homeland Security, Attorney General of the United States, and Director of the Office of Management and the Budget. It is obvious that there will be new department heads appointed after January 20, 2017, and, at some point, they will designate the person from their office who will fill the seat on the FirstNet board of directors. It would be great if these appointed officials could be brought up to speed prior to their making a board appointment.

Next up is the U.S. Congress. While the majority party of both houses will remain the same there are new members and new committee chairs and members will be appointed. It seems that staffers for the newly elected and newly appointed to committees of interest for FirstNet should be educated about FirstNet, its purpose, and the need to continue moving forward. The good news for FirstNet is one of its smartest hires was a congressional staffer who assisted the Public Safety community prior to FirstNet being formed and who is well respected in the halls of Congress. During our many visits to congressional offices we found one of Public Safety’s most potent weapons is the elected sheriffs. They are voted on like members of Congress, and in somewhat of an irony we found that many of the sheriffs who worked so hard to get FirstNet off the ground were elected by more votes in their own county than the congressional representative.

That brings us to the new governors. Their people will have to decide to opt in or opt out of FirstNet. Hopefully they will rely on those currently working for each state on its FirstNet involvement but it would certainly help if these new governors could also be brought up to speed regarding FirstNet and the need for this system to be built out as quickly as possible.

Mayors, city council members, and county supervisors will hopefully listen to their own Public Safety community, which means local Public Safety organizations will have to have been properly briefed. I still find entire counties and even some cities where the word “FirstNet” is not understood and the concept of the broadband network has not been on the Public Safety radar.

That leaves several important parts of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government. FirstNet is “attached” to the Department of Commerce and within that organization the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Among their many duties, they are responsible for assignment of all spectrum for the federal government and overseeing FirstNet. The last agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), might be the most important for the opt-out process. There will be changes there and not only at the commissioner level but also within the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB). FirstNet’s broadband spectrum is the only broadband spectrum that comes under Part 90 FCC rules and it is administered by the PSHSB. Any and all opt-out requests will probably have to be reviewed by this bureau. It is incumbent on both FirstNet and the Public Safety community to ensure that both the new PSHSB director and his or her staff be well versed in FirstNet ahead of any opt-out decisions.

Reviewing this article, I come to the conclusion that I have outlined a tremendous amount of work for both FirstNet and the Public Safety community. This work, of course, is on top of all the other work that must be done sequentially. However, having worked for both the PSST and PSA, and having been associated with FirstNet for a short period of time where I made some friends within today’s FirstNet, I know both the Public Safety community and FirstNet are up to the task.

Even so, perhaps it is time to reconstitute the Public Safety Alliance to work with FirstNet to make sure all these newly elected and appointed officials are up to speed on this most important project. They will already be overloaded trying to get up to speed on many other issues, but we need to impress upon all of them the extreme need to move forward and not allow FirstNet to be delayed in any way.

Andrew M. Seybold

Please Note: This issue of the Public Safety Advocate was published early because of work commitments and next week’s edition will be late. I have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Radio Club of America and will be attending the RCA Technical Symposium and Annual Banquet in New York next week.

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