The Real Opt-Out, Opt-In Question

Isn’t the real question this?  Will public safety agencies actually opt-in to buy the service from AT&T, and use it?


Suddenly, FirstNet is real. It’s actually going to happen. AT&T has won the contract and put together a plan which, by all accounts, will be a major leap forward in public safety wireless communications: priority on all of AT&T’s existing spectrum (120 megahertz or more in most markets), pre-emption by the end of the year, a FirstNet core network by April, a local control app for incident commanders, end-to-end encryption, and much more.

So why is there so much concern, question, opinion and opposition in some state governments about the upcoming Governors’ Opt-In decision?

Let’s get real, Governors have way too many other significant decisions on their plates – most of them involving money – to occupy their time and concern. Funding schools, getting state troopers on the road in a booming economy, taking care of the mentally ill and homeless, and other thorny problems.

Cutbacks in federal government assistance to states are looming. The current proposed federal budget would eviscerate federal grants, support for cities, housing, health care, schools and many other programs. Although Congress will certainly protect some of these programs, cuts will still happen.

Governors have much bigger fish to fry than trying to operate their own network of cell towers. Every state – or most states – will opt-in. How would a Governor justify the amount of money needed to build a RAN when they can get one for free? Hard to believe some are considering doing it.

Assuming that’s true –most states “opting-in” – Isn’t the real question will public safety agencies – police departments, fire districts and ambulance services and emergency managers and maybe, even the Governors’ staffs themselves – actually opt-in to buy the service from AT&T, and use it? That’s the real opt-in decision FirstNet, AT&T and those individuals advising them, should be concerned about.

The real battle is getting public safety agencies to “opt in” and use the network. The true value of FirstNet is realized by getting every agency to use the network and to use common applications such as mapping and situational awareness, interoperable computer-aided dispatch, information sharing apps, group messaging, LMR-to-LTE integration and more.

This common set of applications will be a real win for Governors, public safety agencies and everyone living in a state. For example, having all the firefighting agencies come to a wildfire and be in constant coordination and communication. Or having a disaster like a devastating tornado and coordinating all the responding agencies from paramedics to electrical line workers to transportation responders.

Anyone involved in this, and who has a responsibility to advise decision makers, knows that no cellular network is perfect, but by collaborating and cooperating with AT&T over the next 5 years they can make it almost perfect in their state, expanding coverage, selectively filling holes, and wisely using the 72 deployables AT&T has promised to build specifically for FirstNet.

Those same individuals want to protect and serve their stakeholders – the cops, firefighters, paramedics – who put their lives on the line for the public every day. Likewise, they want the best possible network, but know that it comes through negotiation and engagement and encouraging their stakeholders to adopt the FirstNet/AT&T solution.

These folks see the value in the AT&T proposal. They see the “immediate priority” on all existing AT&T LTE spectrum as a huge win for public safety – a potentially life-saving advantage. Who could have believed that, in July 2017, for a State which does an early opt-in, any first responder in that state would have priority on not just 20 megahertz of spectrum, but 120 megahertz or more?

Unfortunately, some of those in a position of influence, believe that, by finding every little flaw or problem in the AT&T proposal to FirstNet, they somehow “add value.” They look for coverage holes, lack of tribal consultation, and AT&T’s corporate positions on various non-public-safety issues as problems.

The company not chosen to build the network has fanned these flames by asserting such things to Governors as “you can get your devices and service free” and “revenue generated by the network can be used to supplement your general fund”.

Andy Seybold in his Public Safety Advocate series now on this website, an economic analysis by Nera Consulting published in March 2017, and public statements by APCO (“opt out is a false choice”) have exposed these as falsehoods.

We all know AT&T’s network is not perfect. However, the time has come for everyone to stop the naysaying, and come together in a common mission to improve communications for the individuals who daily put their lives on the line for each and every one of the citizens of our country.






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