CRS Report Outlines FirstNet Challenges

A new Congressional Research Service report outlines various challenges facing the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and AT&T, Inc., its network partner, and highlights issues that members of Congress might want to follow as they continue exercising oversight of the nationwide public safety broadband network.

While all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia agreed to allow AT&T build their FirstNet radio access networks (RAN), “challenges remain,” noted the CRS report, which was written by telecommunications policy analyst Jill Gallagher. “While governors allowed FirstNet/AT&T to deploy the network in their states, there is no requirement for state and local public safety agencies to use the network. FirstNet/AT&T must attract users to the network to ensure the network is self-sustaining, as required under the act. FirstNet set adoption targets and steep penalties that AT&T must pay if targets are not met. AT&T has offered specialized features and services (e.g., priority access to the network, support during disasters) to attract users to the network. However, Verizon has offered similar services to entice users to its network which may affect FirstNet/AT&T’s enrollment efforts.

 “There are other factors affecting enrollment,” the report added. “Some public safety agencies have expressed reluctance to join the FirstNet network, citing uncertainties with the resiliency, reliability, and security of the network, coverage, and cost. Other agencies have expressed an unwillingness to join until FirstNet can provide mission critical voice features — essential features that responders have on their radios and use during emergencies — that will not be available from FirstNet until 2019. Attracting users to the network will be challenging for FirstNet/AT&T, but necessary to meet the requirements in the law and achieve the intent of the act.”

 The report continued, “Congress may continue its oversight of FirstNet to ensure the FirstNet network is meeting public safety needs (e.g., security, reliability, and resiliency), requirements in the law are met, and the network is deployed as intended. Congress may monitor subscribership to ensure the network will be self-sustaining, as required in the act, and that the intent of the law is achieved.”

 Among other specific issues for Congress to be aware of are the lack of transparency of FirstNet’s 25-year contract with AT&T and the lack of core-to-core interoperability, the report suggested. — Courtesy TR Daily