First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials today continued to tout what they said are the benefits to public safety of subscribing to their network being built by AT&T, Inc., drawing an implicit comparison with the public safety offering of Verizon Communications, Inc.
Also today, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) released a statement supporting the FirstNet system.
At today’s joint meeting of the FirstNet board and its four committees, which was held via teleconference and WebEx, FirstNet board Chairwoman Sue Swenson wasted no time in touting the progress that she says has been made in deploying the nationwide network.
She said that a “significant number” of public safety agencies across nearly all states have signed up for the service — more than 60,000 customers at more than 650 agencies, FirstNet said today — 31 devices have been certified to operate on the network, more apps are available in the FirstNet apps store – nearly two dozen, according to AT&T – and deployable equipment is being rolled out – although later this originally announced.
Ms. Swenson also said efforts are underway to ensure there is better coordination to respond to the requests for assets. “I think it’s exciting that we’re actually making this amount of progress,” she added.
Other FirstNet officials repeatedly stressed that AT&T has deployed a dedicated public safety core network, rather than a “virtual” core, taking a shot at Verizon.
“We have a network that has its own dedicated core,” said board member Neil Cox, who is chair of the Technology Committee. “It’s not some virtual private network.”
Board Vice Chair Jeff Johnson, who chairs the Public Safety Advocacy Committee, said FirstNet’s network is superior to “other offerings,” adding, “There are lots of offerings out there that are, frankly, not as good as public safety demands.”
Verizon did not respond to a request for comment today. A spokesman for the carrier said previously that it is “building our core on dedicated resources, but it would be foolish to not embrace software defined networking (SDN) and other technologies designed to future proof network development and enhance operations for public safety customers.”
Also at today’s meeting, Network Management and Operations Officer Rich Reed announced that AT&T will complete the delivery of the first 24 of 72 deployables in the next five weeks. At FirstNet’s March meeting, Mr. Reed said that the 24 deployables would be rolled out by the end of that month (TR Daily, March 15).
“This is the first tranche of dedicated FirstNet deployables,” a FirstNet spokesperson noted in a statement to TR Daily. “All FirstNet deployables are expected to be delivered by September 2018. In the meantime, AT&T has made their Network Disaster Recovery fleet available to public safety.”
In response to a question about the delivery of deployables, an AT&T spokeswoman said, “Like a fire apparatus, a custom cell tower on wheels – built to public safety’s specifications – takes months to produce. While we have not missed any commitments, we have delayed delivery of these assets until our vendor meets the exacting standards established by our public safety partners. In the meantime, we have responded to every public safety request for a deployable using our numerous assets.”
Marsha MacBride, associate administrator in charge of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of Public Safety Communications, briefed the board on the process for filling five FirstNet board seats that will be open this August. She said NTIA received 18 applications for the seats and two requests for renominations. “A tentative set of selections” has been prepared for review by NTIA Administrator David J. Redl. There will then be another set of reviews before the names are presented to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, she said. “We are very hopeful that that will be done in a timely fashion,” she added.
In its statement today, NPSTC said that it “strongly supports Public Law 112-96 (02/22/12) that sets forth the requirements for having one Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). THE NPSBN is what public safety advocated for from the beginning of discussions within the community, starting around 2006, and what Congress mandated — a single nationwide network.”
“FirstNet has a physically separate, redundant, and dedicated core — it is NOT a virtual core as part of a commercial network,” NPSTC added. “This supports the SAFECOM public safety communications continuum, which encourages one platform for the highest level of interoperability. One public safety core, the FirstNet core, also takes us away from decades of systems that cannot inter-operate for multi-jurisdictional responses. The FirstNet Authority has committed to provide an Applications Catalog that ensures that applications are tested and certified; to provide dedicated security monitoring of the network 24/7/365; dedicated customer support personnel 24/7/365; public safety dedicated disaster recovery resources and response coordination; a dedicated lab run by the FirstNet Authority that tests and validates the performance of the network, devices, and the applications ecosystem; and a sustainable financial model that guarantees reinvestment in public safety’s network.
“FirstNet is the only network with Band Class 14 spectrum that is dedicated to public safety,” NPSTC noted. “FirstNet also has an oversight organization in the FirstNet Authority that not only ensures that AT&T delivers on its commitments, but also advocates for public safety. Both are unique to FirstNet. NPSTC Supports FirstNet as THE Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network.”
Asked by TR Daily why the federation of 16 public safety organizations had decided to issue the statement now and whether it was taking sides between Verizon and AT&T, NPSTC board Chair Ralph Haller said, “The board was just expressing its support for FirstNet, which is the DHS solution to some aspects of public safety interoperability. It was supporting the federal position, not taking sides in a commercial fight. The statement was just affirmation of support for DHS efforts.”
“We appreciate NPSTC’s continued support of FirstNet, public safety’s network,” a FirstNet spokesperson said of the NPSTC statement. —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org