CHARLOTTE, N.C. -— Some public safety agencies in North Carolina, particularly small agencies in rural areas, are “scared” of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and are unlikely to subscribe anytime soon to the service that AT&T, Inc., FirstNet’s network partner, is offering, a state official said here today.
The comments came at the North Carolina Public Safety Broadband Summit, which was held in conjunction with the 2018 Connectivity Expo, which was organized by the Wireless Infrastructure Association. “In certain parts of North Carolina, I don’t think they’re ready, so they’re scared,” Gregory Hauser, North Carolina’s statewide interoperability coordinator, said during a session this afternoon. He said that feeling is particularly prevalent in rural areas.
“For now in North Carolina … this is going to be a metro advancement,” Mr. Hauser said of FirstNet subscribership, citing major cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro.
Asked what the concerns were for public safety agencies in rural areas, he said “coverage” and cost were the two largest. “We’re going to need some help,” Mr. Hauser said of the cost issue, adding that grant or other funding would be necessary for some agencies.
“We’re going to get there. I think we all realize that,” he added. “How we get there is going to be pretty painful.”
He said that public safety agencies in the state aren’t known for innovating and that they replace equipment only when it breaks. That is a complaint heard in the public safety community in other states as well.
Chad Tucker, a FirstNet consultant manager for AT&T, said that AT&T knew that some agencies would not want to switch providers because of the “hassle.” He said that, among other things, front-end subsidies are available to cover at least some of the equipment costs.
Red Grasso, the FirstNet state point of contact (SPOC) in North Carolina, said he advises agencies considering FirstNet or other options, such as a public safety broadband offering of Verizon Communications, Inc., to evaluate the network first on cost and coverage. He said some agencies have told him they don’t want to switch from Verizon to AT&T.
If they feel that a solution doesn’t meet its needs, an agency should monitor it going forward, he said. He noted that there is an initial five-year build-out for the FirstNet system. “The new devices aren’t going to mean much if you don’t have that coverage,” Mr. Grasso said of the FirstNet system.
Mr. Grasso also said he has heard confusion among first responders about whether they are required to subscribe to FirstNet, which they aren’t. He said his “job is not to make the decision for these agencies, it’s to make sure they’re making a well-informed decision and to kind of correct any misconceptions that they may have from any of the carriers.”
Mr. Grasso said the North Carolina Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee can keep an eye on any grants that might be available for agencies to adopt broadband solutions. The SIEC also will continue to monitor interoperability issues related to first responders who use different networks, he said.
Mr. Grasso also said that the state does not have FirstNet adoption numbers, saying that AT&T has those figures. But Eric Boyette, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology and the state’s chief information officer, said that “the adoption rate could be higher.” He said the state is partnering with AT&T on outreach to first responders. —-Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org