Time to Roll Up Our Sleeves

Coming off a spectacular annual conference that included a Cabinet member, Acting Secretary of Commerce Dr. Rebecca Blank, announcing at our opening general session the public safety, state and local government, and private sector appointments to the FirstNet board, we all now need to get to work.

Let me emphasize the talent of this board. Although the legislation required only three, the Secretary’s appointments include four highly experienced and respected public safety professionals spanning law enforcement, emergency medical service, and firefighting.  They are joined by three individuals with collective experience in state and local issues, information technology management, and rural deployment.  Then we have an outstanding line-up of absolute experts in wireless communications, each bringing substantial experience in designing, building, and financing commercial wireless networks.  

The appointments drew bipartisan and bicameral praise from Capitol Hill, and were widely welcomed by national public safety and state and local governmental organizations. APCO was among them. (See our multiple tweets of the related statements.)

So now FirstNet is here, and that is great news. But while they organize themselves, state and local officials need to get active.

During our annual conference, another statutory deadline was met, and we learned about the criteria for the very important state and local planning grant opportunity.  The state and local planning grant process will serve as a significant vehicle for state and local input into the design and implementation of the nationwide network.  The majority of the work that must be done can be started right away.  (In fact, we have been saying this for months already.)  FirstNet will need to weigh in with its specific requirements before the grant program can begin.  But the more quickly states and localities become engaged, the more effectively FirstNet can accomplish its statutory responsibilities. 

Some states and localities already have some experience in planning LTE-based public safety broadband networks, dating prior to enactment of the public safety legislation and the establishment of FirstNet, and thus prior to the launch of the state and local planning process.  Consistent with APCO’s positions, the Federal Communications Commission has provided a conditional path forward for some of these projects to continue (later amended).  Personally, I see value in some of these serving as pilots for FirstNet and the nationwide network to come.  How far these progress will ultimately be up to FirstNet.  I hope that at a minimum, any such pilot deployments can help reveal the vital cyber security protections the nationwide network must incorporate.  I would also like to see the pilots demonstrate complete interoperability with each other.  By “complete” interoperability, I mean that a mobile device from one jurisdiction operates in any other jurisdiction, period.  After all, our main goal for the nationwide network is to finally achieve the long-overdue national priority of seamless interoperability for all of public safety across the country.

These early goers have had a variety of successes as well as bumps in the road, and we can benefit from the lessons learned from these efforts.  I would encourage state and local public safety professionals to reach out to them.  Also, get involved with identifying your single state point of contact required by the legislation to consult with FirstNet.  Finally, as APCO suggested, start designing your governance structures to ensure participation by localities, tribes, broadband experts, information technology experts, etc.

APCO’s Government Relations Office can help point you to resources and answer questions.  Also, this blog can serve as a great place to interact with each other, share ideas, best practices, etc. 

NTIA has done, and continues to do, an admirable job in getting us started in totally uncharted waters.  FirstNet is about to organize soon, and acquire the FCC license.  See a better way?  Let’s hear from you.  But I for one just skip over those occasional trade press quotes that offer nothing more than a complaint.

Let’s get started – this is not a FirstNet effort alone.  Success will require all stakeholders to work together.  Failure simply isn’t an option.