Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D., Calif.), a senior member of the House communications and technology subcommittee, has expressed concern about a lack of interoperability between the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network being built by AT&T, Inc., and other public safety networks. “The recent wildfires in Northern California and the widespread failure of wireless networks [demonstrate] the need for interoperability between networks to ensure that first responders have the tools they need to respond to emergencies and save lives,” Ms. Eshoo said in a Dec. 21 letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Telecommunications and Information Administration head David J. Redl, and FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth.
Verizon Communications, Inc., has pushed to get FirstNet to commit to allowing Verizon’s planned public safety core to connect to the FirstNet core, which FirstNet and AT&T oppose, citing security and other issues.
“Many disasters like the wildfires in Northern California occur in rural areas where FirstNet’s network provider, AT&T, has historically had less robust connectivity than some of its competitors, including smaller local or regional providers whose sole focus is building networks to serve those areas,” Ms. Eshoo’s letter continued. “As we witnessed with the wildfires, having only one set of cell sites as opposed to interoperability with multiple networks reduces the resiliency of the system. That was not our intent when we passed the legislation and FirstNet must take steps to change that.”
She added, “FirstNet is designed to supplement local first responder communications networks, not replace them. Competition and interoperability go hand-in-hand. Interoperability of public safety networks promotes competition in the public safety communications marketplace to the benefit of all public safety users, and allows first responders to communicate effectively with one another during emergencies.” Ms. Eshoo also said she is “concerned about the potential for digital redlining of FirstNet networks,” adding that “AT&T has not always deployed fiber equally everywhere, and in some cases has specifically deprioritized low income areas or other communities where it is expensive to build fiber backbone with a low rate of return.”
FirstNet and AT&T had no comment today on Ms. Eshoo’s letter.- Paul Kirby