FirstNet Board Members Commit to Building a Network to Meet Mission-Critical Standards
If the nationwide public safety broadband network does not meet mission-critical standards and come up to public safety grade, “we will have failed,” said Chief Charles “Chuck” Dowd, deputy chief, New York City Police Department and FirstNet Board member to attendees at the International Wireless Conference & Expo on March 14.
“Our intent is to make sure this network survives [natural disasters],” said Dowd.
“We’re not going to build a system that’s commercial grade,” said Chief Jeffrey Johnson, CEO Western Fire Chiefs Association and FirstNet Board member. “We’re going to build a public safety grade system that will continue to work.”
“Our primary objective is public safety,” said Johnson, “and we’re listening. We will be visiting all 56 states and territories in our listening tour by the end of June.”
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, signed into law in February 2012, created FirstNet, an independent entity within NTIA. The law charges FirstNet with implementing a nationwide public safety broadband network, which is to be based on a single, nationwide network architecture.
“One effect of this legislation has been the fire, police and EMS community coming together to achieve this monumental task and reap the benefits at the street level,” said Johnson.
One attendee expressed concern that the FirstNet Board members are listening too much to governors and elected officials who will not be in place to see the project through and not enough to members of the public safety community itself. “APCO is the voice of public safety,” she said. “FirstNet should engage APCO in the process.”
“APCO continues to be involved, and we continue to brief them regularly, along with IACP and others” said Dowd.
“We will reach out to the governors because the law requires us to,” said Johnson, “but we will build relationships with staff and others that will be longer lasting.”
APCO International President Terry Hall was in the audience and told attendees, “APCO is one of the many partners who worked together with the Public Safety Alliance to get where we are today. We remain a committed partner to FirstNet, and we need to remain united as a group to move the network forward.”
APCO 2nd Vice President John Wright told Public Safety Communications that he was impressed by the FirstNet Board’s “sole focus on getting this right for public safety.”
Regarding staffing to build the network, Dowd said, “I am confident that we will be naming a general manager in a week to 10 days.”
Dowd and Johnson also addressed attendee concerns about the cost to participate on the network.
“Volunteer fire departments are having trouble putting gas in rigs and buying public safety gear,” said one attendee, expressing concern that public safety agencies will not be able to afford a cost-prohibitive service fee.
“We don’t have an answer yet,” said Johnson, “but the issue is in front of FirstNet.”
One way costs may be kept down is by leveraging the spectrum itself. “We’ve always viewed the spectrum as an asset in that it can be used to generate revenue via secondary usage,” said Dowd.
Johnson said we need to remind public safety that their radio network isn’t free, and neither will the broadband network.
“If FirstNet chooses to leverage commercial infrastructure, then adding public safety site infrastructure can only help,” said Johnson.
Public safety communications consultant Joe Hanna told Public Safety Communications, “We need to be managing expectations regarding cost.”
Johnson also said that FirstNet is interpreting “public safety” broadly. He and Dowd discussed ways the network could be accessed by utilities and parks personnel, for example.
“The goal is to keep this as inexpensive as we possibly can,” said Dowd.