Public Safety Advocate: While We Wait for FirstNet Revision 2

Thu Mar 9 17:03:53 2017

A few years ago I wrote about how Public Safety could begin to prepare for the addition of FirstNet to its communications capabilities. Since then we have seen more delays and have learned more about what the first responder community wants and needs as well as what many states are thinking about the FirstNet deployment.

On March 3, 2017, the U.S. Federal Court heard oral arguments from both sides of the case. FirstNet was represented by federal attorneys assigned to the case and I am sure Rivada Mercury showed up with a sizable contingent as well. According to an article in Urgent Communications , Rivada Mercury says it expects a ruling within the next two weeks. There is little information available on what went on in the closed hearing so I am hopeful Rivada’s estimate on the timing is correct. It still seems like yet another long wait.

I will preface this next section with the disclaimer that I am not an attorney nor do I pretend to be one, but I am both puzzled and troubled that I am hearing from people I know and trust within a number of states and who will remain as “sources” that a big-name member of a past President’s administration has been visiting with governors of the same party and trying to convince them to opt out of FirstNet. It is merely speculation on my part, but I believe this person is working on behalf of Rivada Mercury. It seems inappropriate to me that this activity is occurring during the time the RFP process is being challenged in Federal Court by the same company.

Meanwhile, work continues. The FirstNet team seems to be all over the place recently, meeting with many states, tribal entities, and groups. The interest in FirstNet is still high, and I just saw, as I write this, a report in Mission Critical Communications that Colorado will be releasing an RFP by the end of March or early April to help it make a decision regarding the opt-in or opt-out process. I am still hoping that most states will choose to opt in since I view this as the starting point of the eventual coverage that will be implemented over time as the network matures. I have stated many times that I believe whoever wins the RFP will be willing to work with the states so the network can be augmented by various methods. As many of you know, this is an area my team and I have been investigating for more than a year now.

FirstNet has lost valuable time, first with the early disruption to the board of directors and the over-reaction from the NTIA, and now from the lawsuit. We really need to get past this and get into design and build mode. One of the things I am still concerned about is the six-month window established by FirstNet to create and deliver state plans. This is not a lot of time and the process is far too important not to allow sufficient time for multiple interactions with the states. Ideally, I think each state (tribal area, territory) should be presented with a FirstNet draft plan, have time to hold internal meetings, meet with FirstNet and the RFP winner (Partner) again, and then be presented with a final plan that can be accepted or rejected by the state.

If this network is to attract the Public Safety community as users, it must be built correctly. It must provide the broadband pipe everywhere it is needed, it must support great applications that enable the Public Safety community to better serve the public and stay safe, and it must co-exist for many years with the land mobile radio systems that are the mainstay of Public Safety communications. This network has to be viewed as a must-have by the Public Safety community or it will fail to deliver what so many have been working for. I firmly believe FirstNet will be successful. I hope the Public Safety community will give it time to be built, tested, and then put into service. I also hope both FirstNet and its Partner will be listening to the Public Safety community about operational issues, coverage, and other items, and that they will respond in a positive way to make the user experience the best it can be.

However, before any of this can happen, the RFP award must be made. I hope that however the court rules, this will be the end of the legal challenges and we can start working on building the network. Business is business and investments have been made in this process. However, each and every vendor that submitted a response to the RFP, and those that decided not to, all had one common goal in addition to financial success and that was to serve the Public Safety community. More delays do not serve the Public Safety community and hopefully they will be avoided in the future.

Andrew M. Seybold

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