The Continuing Saga Of Bilking Public Safety To Protect Market Share

By Al Gillespie, Fire Chief (Ret)

What do you call it when someone tells you one thing but continues to do something that isn’t exactly inline with what they’ve said? You could say it’s a slight error. You could say it’s just a matter of perspective. You could say it’s a harmless exaggeration. Or you could say it’s willful lying to protect a market share by duping members of public safety.

I’ve been involved in the quest for a dedicated public safety network for over a decade. We have it right now. The public safety network is called FirstNet and it’s here now. Not all over the country yet but it’s at about the 80% build out phase.

There are five major networks around the country, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and FirstNet. Each of these have a separate core and operate as a stand alone network. FirstNet, which operates on Band 14, is being built for public safety by AT&T and monitored by the Federal Government, through the First Responder Network Authority (a division of NTIA and the Department of Commerce, because they won the twenty-five year contract through a competitive RFP). It is, and always will be, public safety’s network.

All of the networks, except FirstNet, are commercial networks. No matter what you’ve heard.

During the build out of our network by AT&T, they offered their entire network as needed to public safety IN ADDITION to FirstNet.

So some of those companies listed above, not AT&T and not FirstNet, continue to spout those things I mentioned in the first paragraph to take advantage of the pre-established relationships, to take advantage of public safety folks who may not be as informed as they could be about FirstNet, and to continue to cloud the waters of what is available through FirstNet compared to their commercial networks.

So here’s what I’m hearing, and here’s what I believe those in public safety deserve to know.

We have Band 13 and it’s equal or better than Band 14. Wrong!

Band 14 is a completely separate core and network. I really don’t know what this unicorn Band 13 is but even if it’s a thing it’s carved out of a commercial network and subjected to all the limitations of a commercial network.

We have priority and preemption for public safety. Here’s one of those exaggerations I was talking about.

Only FirstNet built by AT&T offers priority and preemption seamlessly, without public safety having to asking for it, and is monitored for compliance by the Federal Government through the Authority. If you don’t believe it just ask around to public safety organizations that have been subjected to throttling and disrupted service just like those on a commercial network.

We’ll send deployables to support you. This is true but….

If you’re a FirstNet built by AT&T customer and you ask for deployables to support emergency or non emergency events there is no additional cost to you for this service. Try that with anyone else. This is also mandated and monitored by the Federal Government through the Authority,

So, everyone has coverage (and everyone has areas that need improvement, FirstNet built by AT&T is moving rapidly to meet the established goals and deadlines associated with our network) and everyone has competitive pricing. My question is if the coverage is there, why would any public safety agency not use or change to our network, FirstNet?

If I were still an active Fire Chief, not retired, and something happened in my area of responsibility and had a communication problem that put my responders or citizens in jeopardy when FirstNet was available to me, and I chose not to change to it when it could have helped maintain communications, I’d expect to see the attorneys lining up outside my door.

Chief Al H Gillespie is the President of the Public Safety Broadband Technology Association and has served the fire service for almost 40 years including 15 years as the Fire Chief of three large city fire departments. Chief Gillespie served as the President of the International Association of Chiefs (IAFC) 2011-12 Chief Gillespie serves as the Principal of Executive Fire Consultants.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this company or any company with whom the author may be associated.

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