Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, September 14, 2017

Public Safety Grade AT&T recently stated at a congressional hearing that there was no “real” definition for the term, “Public Safety Grade.” The public safety community responded with disbelief, led by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) which had published a paper addressing all of the issues needed to qualify as a Public Safety Grade Network. The document, “Defining Public Safety Grade Systems and Facilities,” was published in May of 2014 after much work by many people. Starting on page 108 of the document is a list of individuals and organizations that contributed to this report and the list is three pages long.

In all fairness to AT&T, at last week’s NPTSC meeting in Washington, DC, the AT&T senior vice president in charge of FirstNet stood up and apologized to NPSTC for his comments and then spoke about how AT&T is moving toward public safety grade status. His apology and comments were well received by NPSTC and the clarification was timely and well-articulated.

What he did not say and what I hope to show in this week’s Advocate is that there are differences between public safety grade for Land Mobile Radio (LMR) sites and an LTE network. It is important for LMR communications professionals to understand these differences and not hold AT&T to public safety grade for every cell site in the network. The methodology for hardening an LTE network is different but effective and it is these differences that need to be understood. Continue reading

FirstNet Officials Defend Benefits of Network to Public Safety

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) officials today defended the benefits of the network to first responders, implicitly criticizing a rival offering by Verizon Communications, Inc. The board also approved a fiscal year 2018 budget and officials said that lessons can be learned from the preparation for and response to recent hurricanes and wildfires. At the board’s quarterly meeting in Boulder, Colo., the officials again and again stressed the commitment of FirstNet and AT&T, Inc., the authority’s network partner, to meeting the needs of public safety agencies, from applications to devices to radio access networks (RANs) to a dedicated public safety core network, and they suggested that the planned FirstNet offerings were superior to others, without mentioning Verizon by name.

“They’re not just doing this as a marketing tactic,” FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said of AT&T. “This is a commitment.” “Public safety is our only business,” he also said. “We only have one priority.” Mr. Poth also said that the FirstNet system “isn’t something that can be replicated overnight by switching on a switch.”

Last month, Verizon announced that it would offer priority and preemption to public safety customers and that it plans to deploy a dedicated public safety core network (TR Daily, Aug. 15). The offering could pose serious competition to FirstNet and AT&T, as many in the public safety community view Verizon’s network as more extensive and reliable and the carrier has a dominant share of the public safety market.

But Mr. Poth said at today’s meeting that public safety is not concerned “with market competition.” However, in response to Verizon’s announcement, some in the public safety community said that such competition was good for first responders.

Board Vice Chairman Jeff Johnson said today that AT&T has made commitments to FirstNet, “and we’re going to hold them accountable.” He also said that some public safety organizations are certified and others are not, suggesting that FirstNet was. Continue reading

FirstNet’s Finance Committee Proposes Slimmer Budget Due to Streamline

The First Responder Network Authority’s Finance Committee has proposed a fiscal year 2018 budget that would represent a 13% reduction, enabled by streamlined processes, improved efficiency, and a shift away from the use of contractors. The budget proposal was one of several issues discussed today at FirstNet’s combined committee meetings in Boulder, Colo., in advance of a board meeting tomorrow.

In opening remarks at today’s meeting, FirstNet Chairwoman Susan Swenson noted the slate of recent natural disasters in the U.S. from the hurricane damage and flooding suffered in Texas and Florida and wildfires in Oregon.  The recent spate of disasters “reinforces that we need to be urgent about what we’re going,” she said.  “I think we feel pretty good about where we are, but we need to press forward … And make sure this technology gets deployed as quickly as possible.”

The Finance Committee proposed a $73.5 million budget for fiscal year 2018, representing a 13% decrease from its $84.6 million FY17 budget.   The reduction is based on streamlined processes in a post-award environment, a focus on improving resource optimization, and reduced reliance on contractors, said Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington. “We’re very proud of this process because we started with a zero-based budget approach and had every business unit provide the status of their business today and how they’re using their dollars,” Ms. Farington said.  “Every requested item in the fiscal year 2018 budget matches up with our strategic goals.”

Priorities for FY18 include initiating RAN buildout for opt-in states, testing current and future network features and capabilities, evolving and delivering applications for stakeholders, completing the FirstNet core, updating services and security of that core, and initiating Band 14 network and FirstNet field operations, Ms. Farington said. Continue reading

FirstNet Denies FoIA Requests for Information on AT&T Contract, Opt-In Notifications

The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has denied a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the 25-year contract it has signed with AT&T, Inc., to deploy and maintain a nationwide public safety broadband network, as well as requests for other records, including opt-in notifications from states.

A letter yesterday from FirstNet Senior Counsel Natasha Robinson Coates noted that under section 6206(d)(2) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which established FirstNet, FirstNet is exempt from FoIA requirements. “Accordingly, we do not undertake a search of our files for requested records or furnish such records to requestors,” she said. “Further, the requested information constitutes internal (non-public) agency records that FirstNet has determined not to make publicly available at this time,” she added. “Therefore, this letter closes your pending request before FirstNet.”

The letter rejected four separate FoIA requests submitted to FirstNet, the Commerce Department, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The requests had sought (1) “all user comments submitted to [FirstNet’s state plans]portal”; (2) “all communications from any state government officials to the First Responder Network Authority (‘FirstNet’) which the agency considers to be agreements (or proposed agreements) to ‘opt-in’ to the FirstNet system”; (3) “all Privacy Impact Assessments (‘PLAs’) created for systems affiliated with the First Responder Network Authority (‘FirstNet’)”; and (4) “all contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding, etc. with AT&T pertaining to the First Responder Network Authority (‘FirstNet’).” Continue reading

Andy Seybold’s Public Safety Advocate, September 8, 2017

Public Safety Devices As FirstNet moves forward with more than twenty opt-ins, and the network begins to take shape, questions remain about the types of devices that will be needed and wanted by the public safety community. The original vison put forth by many of us working on the project prior to Congress allocating the spectrum or creating FirstNet is that at some point a single device would be carried by all first responders to access both broadband and Land Mobile Radio (LMR) systems. Why burden those who already carry a belt full of gear with yet another device? However, during recent conversations with some of those advocating for public safety broadband and with many of today’s first responders, it appears as though the vision of one person, one device may not always be the best choice. It is clear that we will start with existing land mobile radio portables, smartphones, and tablets. AT&T has made it simple for opt-in states.

An agency simply signs up and its users receive new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards for their existing smartphones (if they are compatible with AT&T’s spectrum). Over time, as AT&T builds out FirstNet Band 14, new devices can be purchased. There are already several offerings on the market, specifically from Sonim, that meet the need for hardened, long battery life devices and more are coming from Motorola, Harris, Tait, JVCKenwood, and others. LMR vendors are working on cross-over devices or devices that communicate back-and forth between LMR and LTE networks.

Discussions I have had indicate more than ever that there will need to be multiple types of devices, offering multiple types of services or combinations of services. One of the issues with this, of course, is that vendors do not like to build a few each of many different types of devices and would rather build many of one type. One of the reasons LMR radios are so expensive is that there are so many different radios needed for different portions of the LMR spectrum that production costs remain high. Read the Entire Blog Here

Senators Blast The FCC For Weakening The Definition Of Broadband To Try And Hide The Industry’s Lack Of Real CompetitionTechdirt Corporate Intelligence Sep  8 15:05 Back in 2015, the FCC raised the standard definition of broadband from 4 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up, to an arguably-more-modern 25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up. Of course the uncompetitive broadband industry (and the lawmakers who adore them) subsequently threw a collective hissy fit about the change, because they realized a higher bar would only highlight their failure to deliver next-generation broadband to vast swaths of America. And highlight it did: by this…

Vermont Releases RFP for Statewide LTE RANMissionCritical Sep  8 10:03 The Vermont Office of Purchasing & Contracting, on behalf of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), is soliciting proposals for an alternative solution to the nationwide offering of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). Proposals are sought from qualified firms to build, operate and maintain a statewide radio access network (RAN) to connect to and be fully interoperable with the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). read more

AT and T Exec Backtracks on Public Safety Grade CommentsMissionCritical Sep  8 10:03 Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president, apologized for comments he made “that may have been misleading” regarding a definition of public safety grade for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide public-safety broadband network. read more Continue reading

Verizon Praises Public Safety Customers

Verizon Communications, Inc., treasures its public safety customers, Matt Ellis, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said today at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2017 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference. “They are great customers,” Mr. Ellis said. But he defended the carrier’s decision not to bid on the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) request for proposals (RFP).

“We have a significant amount of low-band spectrum, and it just wasn’t as important for us to … bid on that as it was for others,” he said. He would not discuss whether the FirstNet system, which will be built by AT&T, Inc., was a threat to Verizon’s dominant share of the public safety market. Verizon has announced it will offer priority service and preemption to public safety customers, and it also plans to build a dedicated public safety core, matching AT&T’s offer (TR Daily, Aug. 15).

Courtesy TRDaily

TRDaily Reports: AT&T, Verizon Executives Defend Plans for Public Safety Networks

AT&T, Inc., and Verizon Communications, Inc., executives today defended and clarified their companies’ plans for deploying nationwide public safety networks, in the wake of criticism on matters such as the deployment of public safety grade facilities, the use of public safety Band 14, and interoperability between the two. The remarks were delivered at a Washington meeting of the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).

In his comments, Chris Sambar, senior vice president-FirstNet for AT&T, which is the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) network partner, apologized for “comments that I made that may have been misleading” concerning whether AT&T was committed to deploying a public safety grade network. “If my comments misled or concerned anyone, please know that we are absolutely 100% committed,” he said.

At a Senate hearing in July, Mr. Sambar was asked by Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) if AT&T’s commercial network is considered “public safety grade.” Mr. Sambar said there is no definition for that, but he said AT&T’s network is built “in a manner that is as reliable as possible.” The remark drew concern from some in the public safety community.

Last month, NPSTC released a statement expressing disappointment in AT&T statement that there is no consensus definition for public safety grade (TR Daily, Aug. 18).

At today’s meeting, Mr. Sambar praised a 2014 NPSTC report that defined public safety grade systems (TR Daily, May 23, 2014). He also stressed efforts by AT&T to protect 30 central offices and other assets in the Hurricane Harvey flood zone.

“As you noted in your report, it’s not reasonable to think that every single tower will be at the same level of public safety grade … but there does need to be some ranking,” Mr. Sambar said, saying that microwave and fiber hub locations are more important, as are cell sites relied on by public safety answering points (PSAPs).

He said AT&T has talked with states about the sites they consider to be particularly important, saying that a western state gave the carrier a list of 600 locations that it said need to be public safety grade.

Mr. Sambar also said he has heard “rumors” that AT&T will not deploy Band 14. In response to a question from Sen. Wicker at the July hearing about whether AT&T planned to build out Band 14 public safety spectrum “only where it is economically viable,” Mr. Sambar replied, “We are building Band Class 14 where we need the capacity in our network,” which will be done on a tower-by-tower basis.

That statement drew criticism from some people who say that public safety fought for Band 14 because that is the best band for the community’s use.

“We’re going to build out Band 14 broadly across our network,” Mr. Sambar said today. “We’re using it for capacity and coverage both.” In rural areas, AT&T will use the spectrum for coverage when it builds new towers, he said. He predicted that the carrier would deploy more than half the spectrum within the five-year initial build out and nearly everywhere over the 25-year life of the FirstNet contract. But he also noted that first responders will also use AT&T’s commercial LTE spectrum and said they won’t know which bands they are on.

Mr. Sambar also suggested that permitting other carriers to interoperate with AT&T’s dedicated FirstNet core will introduce security vulnerabilities into the network, citing, for example, Chinese hardware that some other carriers may use. “We’re not comfortable with that,” he said. He asked whether AT&T should have to allow interoperability with a U.S. mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) run by China Telecom.

Earlier at today’s meeting, a Verizon executive defended the company’s plans to offer priority service and preemption to public safety customers while building a dedicated public safety core (TR Daily, Aug. 15), saying that it doesn’t see itself as a competitor of FirstNet and wants its offering to be interoperable with the FirstNet system.

In the wake of Verizon’s announcement last month, some public safety advocates have questioned whether the company’s offering will undermine FirstNet and AT&T and whether it will be interoperable with the FirstNet service. Some also have asked why Verizon didn’t submit a bid for the FirstNet contract won by AT&T.

Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president-public safety policy, said that as it planned its public safety service, the company “understood that many in the public safety community might not view us in a good way, including our friends at FirstNet. … Our focus here is really to be complementary to FirstNet, and everyone might not see it that way initially.”

“We don’t view FirstNet as a competitor. We view them as a program that we want to be able to support,” Mr. Brittingham added.

But he also emphasized the importance for the public safety community of having “competitive choices,” which he said will “drive innovation” and favorable pricing. “We certainly believe that competition is important,” Mr. Brittingham said, but “we also know that none of that matters if you don’t have interoperability. … We are committed to be interoperable.”

He said it will be up to FirstNet to ensure there is “an umbrella framework” that ensures interoperability and an open ecosystem, including for apps. He said Verizon hopes to meet with FirstNet to ensure that its network can be interoperable with AT&T/FirstNet services. A particular challenge involves push-to-talk or other apps, as well as identity management.

He also said the company has used NPSTC’s public safety grade report as “a guide for us in how we build and operate our networks.” He said that “in almost every respect” Verizon meets or, “in many cases,” exceeds “what those standards require.”

Most of the areas where it doesn’t involve apps such as PTT, Mr. Brittingham said, including a PTT service that is fully interoperable with LMR and is moving to mission-critical voice. Another involves deployables and having stand-alone operations if the network is not operable, he said. Verizon is committed to rolling out devices that can use Band 14 so its public safety customers can also use FirstNet system, he stressed.

He said in response to a question that Verizon doesn’t have a data roaming agreement with AT&T and doesn’t think that one is necessary.  “I don’t see the roaming issue as being critical here,” he said. But he added, “We’re open to that.”

Mr. Brittingham also responded to criticism of Verizon about why it didn’t submit a bid in response to FirstNet’s request for proposals (RFP).

“For Verizon, we viewed the RFP as a spectrum arrangement,” he said. “Verizon has never had any interest in the spectrum. … It wasn’t about commercializing the spectrum.” But he said Verizon is committed to meeting the needs of public safety, noting that it will offer priority access immediately and plans to offer preemption by the end of this year or early next year. He said the public safety core will be ready in the first quarter of 2018 — the same timeframe as the FirstNet public safety core.

In response to another question, Mr. Brittingham said Verizon plans to establish a public safety advisory committee with input from FirstNet. “Obviously, FirstNet’s input in this is critical,” he added. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily