March 29, 2017–LAS VEGAS – Former public safety officials stressed the need for the public safety community to advocate for next-generation 911 (NG-911) deployment as it did for the creation of a nationwide public safety broadband network, which led to the establishment of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). During a session here yesterday afternoon at the IWCE show, two speakers who once ran large 911 centers and were key players in lobbying for legislation that authorized FirstNet, Chuck Dowd, former assistant chief of the New York Police Department, and Chris Moore, former chief of the San Jose Police Department, stressed the importance of 911 in responding to emergencies.
“It’s deserving of attention and money,” said Mr. Moore, the former chairman of the Public Safety Alliance (PSA), the organization that successfully lobbied for the reallocation of the 700 megahertz band D-block and the reservation of $7 billion in funding. “I do think it’s time.” Mr. Moore is now senior vice president of Rivada Networks LLC, which unsuccessfully led a consortium to bid for the FirstNet contract.
“Next-gen 911 is of equal importance to the public safety mission at FirstNet,” said Mr. Dowd, who was a FirstNet board member for two years and is now a public safety consultant. If legislation is necessary to facilitate NG-911 deployment, “we need to support that,” he added.
Raymond Flynn, a former assistant chief of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department who also was active in lobbying for the FirstNet legislation and is now a consultant, also agreed about the importance of NG-911.
During the session, the former public safety officials and others also recounted the many years it took to get to the point where FirstNet is on the verge of announcing a contract with a partner, AT&T, Inc., including confronting a failed FCC auction of the D-block spectrum and possible re-auction without the same public safety conditions, lobbying for the legislation, and dealing with early FirstNet growing pains, including a lack of staff and friction among industry and public safety board members. “I can’t even tell you the amount of people it took to get this to fruition,” Mr. Moore said.
He and others noted that various public safety disciplines were not used to working together, but that they did so for this purpose, while also drawing support from groups representing states and localities.
“Any division in our ranks would have left us vulnerable,” said Kevin McGinnis, a FirstNet board member who represented the emergency medical services community in the push for legislation, which culminated in convincing lawmakers to include reallocation of the D-block and funding for a public safety network in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.
However, the speakers bemoaned the fact that the legislation also required the FCC to reallocate and auction public safety spectrum in the T-band by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023. Proceeds from the auction can be used to cover the relocation costs of public safety licensees. But the law didn’t say anything about relocating non-public safety licensees.
Mr. McGinnis also noted that the legislation required FirstNet to consult with the 56 states and territories but did not detail separate consultation with tribes and federal agencies. “Those are the things that happen in sausage-making,” he said, noting that FirstNet has established consultation efforts to both of those groups.
Messrs. McGinnis and Dowd also said that while there was friction between industry and public safety board members early on, board members gained respect for each other over time. Mr. McGinnis noted how difficult it was when board members had to double as staff in the early days. Once an adequately sized staff was hired, there was “an organized approach to planning,” he said. FirstNet now has more than 200 people on the payroll, he said, and is now able to be more selective about who it hires thanks to the quality of the applicants.
The speakers also expressed frustration with how long it takes to get things done in the federal government, something they said particularly drove industry board members who were not use to working in government crazy. “It took us three months to approve the logo for FirstNet,” Mr. Dowd said.
There was also discussion about how far FirstNet has come since it introduced its strategic road map three years ago (TRDaily, March 11, 2014). The FirstNet representatives were also asked about the difficulty in ensuring that their request for proposals (RFP) led to a bid that would lead to financial sustainability for the network. The RFP calls for a 25-year contract with its partner. And they also were asked about the RFP’s stipulation that the successful bidder pay FirstNet billions of dollars.
Under the RFP, at least $5.625 billion in payments would have to be made to FirstNet by the contractor over 25 years, with annual payments starting at $80 million a year and increasing gradually to $430 million a year for years 22 to 25.
Mr. McGinnis and David Buchanan, FirstNet’s director-consultation, said what allowed FirstNet to include that provision in the RFP is the value of the 20 megahertz of spectrum. “It made eminent sense, but it still required faith” that the RFP would attract bids, Mr. McGinnis said.
Mr. Buchanan also noted that before issuing its final RFP, FirstNet released numerous requests for information (RFI) and a draft RFP, which he said many government agencies wouldn’t do. He said it wanted to make sure it had adequate feedback before releasing the final RFP. “I don’t see any great surprises for us at this point,” Mr. McGinnis said. “One way or the other, states are going to build up and they’re going to participate.” – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org