The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board was briefed today on the authority’s updated strategic road map, state plan consultation, and other issues as officials celebrated the recent delivery of state plans (TR Daily, June 19).At a joint meeting of the board and its four committees at a hotel near FirstNet’s Reston, Va., headquarters, officials celebrated the progress that FirstNet made with the delivery of the state plans earlier this month, less than three months after it awarded a 25-year contract to AT&T, Inc. (TR Daily, March 30), but they also stressed that much work remains.
“There’s still more work ahead,” FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth near the end of today’s meeting after thanking states and FirstNet staff for helping the authority get this far. “No one is spiking the football. We’re not done, we’re just beginning. … The sense of urgency remains.”
FirstNet President TJ Kennedy outlined a two-year update of FirstNet’s road map, which was first adopted in 2014. For example, he noted that initial operational capability for a device and applications ecosystem is due by Sept. 30. FirstNet/AT&T deployables also will be available that date. The road map timeline also shows the 90-day clock for governor decisions to end in December, with the Band 14 marketplace opening then as well. Radio access network (RAN) construction for opt-in states is to begin in early 2018, according to the timeline — although that could occur sooner if states opt-in sooner — and the FirstNet core is to be completed in March 2018. The schedule has mission-critical push-to-talk (PTT) services being tested in June 2018 with mission-critical PTT services available in March 2019. Mr. Kennedy said these dates will be updated as necessary, and he and other FirstNet officials said hopefully deployment will occur more quickly in areas.
FirstNet Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson said FirstNet should educate policy-makers so AT&T does not face commercial restrictions on deploying drones in support of FirstNet. FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson stressed the importance of AT&T having fully trained personnel to handle the inquiries of first responders that use its network. She also made a pitch for people to apply for FirstNet jobs at AT&T. “They’ve got lots of opportunities,” she said. Mr. Kennedy said AT&T has been bolstering its staff to handle the FirstNet network and training them.
Mr. Poth interjected, saying that he wants to keep FirstNet’s current staff and joked that he doesn’t want them to apply for jobs at AT&T. “I want to keep that staff, and I want to keep them happy,” he said.
FirstNet also said that by the end of this week, 29 meetings will have been held on state plans since they were released, and 55 meetings are scheduled through Aug. 4, when responses to plans are due from states.
“In general, I would say those meetings are going well,” said Amanda Hilliard, FirstNet’s deputy chief customer officer. “Not to say there haven’t been some challenging discussions,” she added, saying there have been “lots of questions.”
Brian Hobson, FirstNet’s director-state plans, was asked if anyone has had difficulty accessing the state plan portal. “So far, so good,” he replied. However, he said there have been “minor speed bumps … but we’ve been actively working those.”
Mr. Kennedy said more than 1,600 people have accessed the state plan portal. He said July 15 would likely be the earliest that any state would opt in.
Mr. Johnson and others also stressed the importance to public safety of deploying location services. Under its contract with FirstNet, AT&T must deploy those services by the end of the five-year construction period, officials said. “We want to enable this to happen faster,” Mr. Kennedy said.
FirstNet Chief Network Program Officer Stephen Fletcher described work that has occurred since the AT&T award, including the release of three task orders, and activities planned for the coming months. “This is a very, very complex contract,” he said, noting that there are 82 deliverables at some point of each year that FirstNet must monitor. He acknowledged that, because the contract award was held up by a legal challenge filed by Rivada Mercury LLC, not all AT&T personnel were in place and trained when the award was announced. “It was enormous. There was just a lot getting up to speed,” he added.
Mr. Poth cited the complexity of supporting and monitoring 56 state network programs.
“We have to be able to surge,” said Mr. Fletcher, noting that 45 deliverables are due some months but only 10 in others.
He said that FirstNet and AT&T have a monthly program management review with senior officials.
Ms. Swenson also said that the Consultation and Outreach and Technology committees have reviewed FirstNet’s network policies.
A document with those policies was made available in the state plan portal, according to Chief Technology Officer Jeff Bratcher. FirstNet and AT&T are still working “on detailed supporting materials” that will be finalized over the next month and be put in the portal, he added.
Mr. Bratcher also detailed upcoming cybersecurity milestones, including a quality assurance surveillance plan and contract deliverables by next month and a cybersecurity verification program by October.
Also today, Public Safety Advisory Committee Chair Tom Sorley said the PSAC’s tribal working group proposed edits to the tribal consultation policy; the edits were ratified by the PSAC executive committee and sent to FirstNet. As for the early builder working group, he said FirstNet and AT&T have held discussions with members to see which of their assets will or won’t be absorbed into the network. Mr. Sorley also said that the federal working group has been “somewhat ad hoc” due to a difficulty getting additional members, “so we’re now crafting a new scope of work for them, basically, that involves a lot of outreach to the regional offices … to ensure that the FirstNet message is getting where it needs to be for our federal users.”
He also said the PSAC’s adoption task team has completed its work, which includes four deliverables, including information on key differentiators between the FirstNet system and traditional cellular networks. He said that the deliverables have been sent to the full PSAC for review and comment and that he expects them to be delivered to FirstNet by the end of July.
Ms. Swenson said the Governance and Personnel Committee is reviewing expressions of interest from individuals who want to serve on the FirstNet board.
One of the 12 nonpermanent board member seats is currently vacant; the term for the seat expires in August 2019. The appointments of four current nonpermanent board members expire this August. Expressions of interest were due last month.
Ms. Swenson said vetting people is a “fairly rigorous process,” and she noted that the legislation that established FirstNet requires board members to have particular experience. Interviews of candidates will be done in July and then FirstNet will recommend people to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will forward recommendations to the Commerce Department. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re without board members, because there’s plenty of work ahead for us,” Ms. Swenson said. “We have a lot of terrific people who have expressed an interest in serving on the board. I guess they think we’re going to be around for a while. … We used to get just, you know, a couple. Now we’ve got quite a show of interest.”
Board member Kevin McGinnis, who has served as the board’s tribal liaison, urged consideration of tribal candidates for the board. He said tribal representatives have expressed interest in serving.
Meanwhile, FirstNet Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington said that FirstNet established new baselines for obligations and expenses for fiscal year 2017 as a result of the fact that the award of the contract to AT&T came later than expected. As a result, some expenses were delayed as well, she said. She also said that “financial stewardship efficiencies” have resulted in the recovery of nearly $10 million in funds that had carried over from previous years and can now be used for other purposes. She also said that an update of FirstNet’s five-year strategic plan will focus on “key performance indicators” and ensure that budget line items are aligned with goals and objectives. She said FirstNet plans to finalize the update in July and then will start monitoring progress and performance, using automated tools to help.
Ms. Swenson noted that now that FirstNet has awarded a contract to AT&T and is moving to build out the network, “we’re moving into a cycle time that is going to go a little bit faster. We’re going to need more information more frequently about what is going on.” She asked FirstNet management to consider how that information can be provided to the board “at least on a monthly basis.” Now that FirstNet will have revenues, she asked whether it would monitor profit and loss figures. Ms. Farington said it would.
“We’re moving into a new era, aren’t we, of reporting, which is exciting,” Ms. Swenson said. “It won’t be business as usual from a budgeting standpoint this year.”
Also during today’s meeting, the board adopted a resolution thanking former PSAC Chair Harlin McEwen for his service and establishing an annual public safety broadband communications award in his name. He is the first recipient. “This is a wonderful honor and an unexpected pleasure, to be very honest,” said Mr. McEwen. “I do treasure all those years of what I call trials and tribulations,” he added, referring to the length of time it took to see the launch of a nationwide public safety broadband network. “This has been a great journey.”
During today’s meeting, the board also met in closed session “to discuss network security,” Ms. Swenson said. She said it was “a thorough and robust discussion.” —Paul Kirby, email@example.com