APCO Roundup–Courtesy TRDaily: Early Builders Emphasize Lessons Projects Will Provide to First Net

NEW ORLEANS – Representatives of four of five public safety broadband early builders stressed at APCO 2014 the lessons that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet, as well as states across the country, stand to learn from their projects.

For example, a network being deployed in Harris County, Texas will gather data that can hopefully assist in the deployment of networks elsewhere, including by providing key metrics such as the amount of traffic on the network during disasters and how users should be prioritized, said Todd Early, deputy assistant director of the Public Safety Communications Service within the Law Enforcement Support Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“There’s no real data that’s out there to really give us what we need,” he said.

In New Jersey, the state hopes to gather information on, among other things, the use and capabilities of rapidly deployable assets. It plans to deploy the assets on the Route 21 corridor between Newark and Paterson, in Camden, and in Atlantic City.

The Route 21 corridor deployment includes Newark Liberty International Airport, a port, and major roads, as well as the largest chlorine manufacturing plant on the East Coast. “It’s considered the most dangerous three miles in America,” said Fred Scalera, public safety broadband manager for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, which has taken over management of the project from the New Jersey Office of Information Technology.

Mr. Scalera said that the state will pick up the cost of running the network for at least the first three years to encourage agencies to join it, adding that agencies can keep the equipment they are given. “The only thing left to work out would be the roaming piece,” he said.

New Mexico Chief Information Officer Darryl Ackley said officials in his state are still mulling where to locate the seven to 10 sites they expect to deploy for their network. He said the state is still negotiating with the Department of Interior on a memorandum of agreement about using sites. He said that the MOA can hopefully serve as a template for other states in dealing with federal agencies in the deployment of public safety broadband services.

Among other things, the New Mexico project will attempt to provide lessons on the use of a network core that is located remotely – in this case, in Harris County, Texas – and provide learnings on the shared use of a network along the U.S. border with Mexico, including by federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an interview with TRDaily, Mr. Ackley stressed the importance of FirstNet services being offered at a price point that users are willing to pay. In many cases, that will mean the price that first responders may currently pay for commercial services, although Mr. Ackley noted that some responders along the border with Mexico currently rely on satellite services that are typically more expensive than terrestrial offerings.

The Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) plans to provide lessons on leveraging partnerships with utilities and other secondary responders, Pat Mallon, its executive director, noted during yesterday’s session.

Mr. Mallon said that Southern California Edison is very interested in FirstNet using its fiber – “for a charge.” “We’re still working through that,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Early said he was “very confident” that the state of Texas would be able to sign a FirstNet spectrum lease agreement on behalf of Harris County within the next two or three weeks.

The state and FirstNet have been discussing a spectrum lease agreement since April 2013, and the state has received four grants of special temporary authority (STA) from the FCC related to the operation of the Harris County network, with the current STA scheduled to expire late this month.

The last of the five public safety broadband project is being deployed by the  Adams County, Colo., Communications Center (ADCOM 911). Each of the projects, except for Harris County, has a BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) grant. The deadline to complete grant spending is Sept. 30, 2015.

The early builder representatives subject to that deadline said they plan to meet it.

“We’re going to meet the deadline clear as day,” Mr. Scalera told TRDaily. He said the timeline for his project calls for deployable installation to begin in November and for the system has to be completed by May 15, 2015. “I’m building in a buffer,” he said.

He also stressed the importance of top-level leadership for his project, saying that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R.) wants it done. “This is a project the governor believes in,” Mr. Scalera said. “If you know anything about our governor, he doesn’t like to fail.”- Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com