Four public safety leaders today ripped a story in “The Atlantic” that criticized the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and its effort to build a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.
The story, written by Steven Brill, appears in the September issue of the magazine, with the headline, “The $47 Billion Network That’s Already Obsolete.” The article argues that any interoperability problems have largely been addressed, and that first responders’ bandwidth and communications needs can be addressed through other means, such as the use of commercial services devices. It quotes few sources and is largely an opinion piece.
“The prize for the most wasteful post-9/11 initiative arguably should go to FirstNet—a whole new agency set up to provide a telecommunications system exclusively for firefighters, police, and other first responders,” the article states.
A joint statement responding to the article was issued today by Ralph Haller, chair of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council; Doug Aiken and Paul Patrick, vice chairs of NPSTC; and Harlin McEwen, chair of FirstNet’s Public Safety Advisory Committee. The leaders endorsed the statement as individuals and not on behalf of their organizations.
“The very critical article relative to FirstNet published in the September 2016 issue of The Atlantic is far from reality and has generated a lot of discussion among the public safety community,” the leaders said. “As most public safety officials know, in addition to being inaccurate, the author failed to capture public safety’s longstanding advocacy efforts and hard work toward a dedicated, reliable mission critical wireless broadband network. In fact, there is not one single quote or testimonial from a public safety representative in the story.
“Contrary to what is reported by the author, the FirstNet Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) is not a wasteful initiative,” the statement continued. “Given the progress made by FirstNet to date, especially as we near the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, it is unfortunate that we may find ourselves once again defending the need for a nationwide public safety broadband network. As was the case 15 years ago, commercially available networks still do not provide emergency responders with the level of reliability and priority that they need. And despite the author’s claim that interoperability has been ‘solved’ — there is still much work to be done on that front, too, as we all know.”
The public safety leaders added, “The public safety community has been working hard to achieve the NPSBN for many years and it is obvious that the author of the article has little understanding of the important reasons for this initiative.
“Although it has been somewhat slow and painful to get to where we are today, the progress that has been made in the past 4 years (the enabling law was passed by Congress in February 2012) has been quite amazing,” the statement said. “FirstNet, with wide support from the public safety community, has responded to the many challenges it has faced and kept moving forward.”
FirstNet had no comment on the article. —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org