Trust is Critical for FirstNet Adoption by States
By Brad Stoddard
Tuesday, June 13, 2017 | Comments
The fifth single state points of contact (SPOCs) meeting June 7 – 8 in Dallas formally introduced AT&T, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) nationwide partner, to the country’s public-safety communications leaders. Years of questions and anticipation about the next chapter of FirstNet are coming to a close as the nation’s SPOCs and their respective teams prepare for the next leg of the nationwide public-safety broadband network.

As the draft state plans will highlight the next steps in this planning and partnering process, it's worth a look back. We've watched our colleagues take positions with FirstNet and AT&T, taking with them the same passion and spirit to ensure that the opportunity that faces all of us is nothing short of a successful journey.

I've heard many "we've never done this before" comments. Fortunately, we have, and those lessons learned and best practices on how to ensure a partnership succeeds with a unified vision are witnessed at the federal, state, local and tribal levels of government.

Whether we look at the resounding success and maturity of statewide LMR systems that have been the basis of FirstNet's shared adoption model across all disciplines or the contracts providing 9-1-1 trunk lines around the nation, we have models. We know it can be done and will be a success as long as it has time to succeed. Will this network be the end-all, be-all on day one of the go live? It will not, but it will mark the first steps in a 25-year journey of changing the citizen experience with public safety.

Last week, we were introduced to the leaders from the AT&T team, including the technical experts responsible for the network resiliency and cyber protections. We also had an introduction to the state portal design and an overview for the ecosystem plans for software and hardware. The FirstNet and AT&T vendor partners demonstrated their hardware and software solutions in the vendor spotlight area. This provided a view into what solutions would take advantage of the network for first responders in attendance.

Although the amount of new information was helpful and interesting, there were attendees who have skepticism surrounding FirstNet’s state coverage priorities with the initial buildout and solution delivery in the states. There is an opportunity for FirstNet to address public safety's needs while also helping AT&T to meet governors’ needs for rural broadband development. 

In the past, the vague approach from our FirstNet partners has done less than expected to set us with a level of comfort to share in our states. The lack of information and "trust us" from FirstNet officials created the greatest level of concern because we have experience with information sharing going only one direction with some other federal partners for years.

I understand the need to protect FirstNet, and the FirstNet government teams are well protected by their attorneys. To regain trust, this is one area that we hope shifts now that the contract is in place and FirstNet team members can speak freely with their nonfederal government counterparts. FirstNet and AT&T must establish the expected prelude to the network development, which is user trust. 

There are still unanswered questions, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 5 Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (RECCWG) questions provided to FirstNet in its infancy. But based on my own experience of managing a large communications network, it will take time to develop those answers and needed solutions.

Is there still speculation and concern around the country? No doubt, yet that concern has been more toward the list of unknowns that had not been answered. This meeting gave us more detail and information than we have received to date. As I had discussions at “SPOCfest Five” with my peers from government, FirstNet and AT&T, there are still concerns from the SPOC teams, yet a hope that the delivery of the initial state plans will provide a better understanding than what we yet have. June 19 might be the date when we begin to rebuild some trust lost in some areas of the country, but the opportunity will be on FirstNet and AT&T to approach those issues head on because without trust, there will be an impact on adoption.

I might see the potential from a different view because I was one of many who spent time with my peers in public safety educating the importance of the spectrum and this network to our elected officials in Washington and in my home state. From those early morning meetings strolling through the quiet halls of Congress to the culmination of the last official SPOC fest, I have seen the maturity of the discussions expand with the growth of many new faces in support of the vision of FirstNet.

Although this may be the end of the annual SPOC meetings, a FirstNet executive said there is a possibility of an annual event to continue to bring colleagues together to foster innovation and information sharing across the ever-growing community of FirstNet evangelists and adopters.

I am looking forward to the delivery of the state plans — Godspeed FirstNet and AT&T!

Brad Stoddard is Michigan's statewide interoperability coordinator (SWIC) and the director of Michigan’s Public Safety Communications System (MPSCS), one of the largest public-safety communications systems in the world. 2017 marks the 21th year of the MPSCS, a growing statewide 800/700 MHz Project 25 (P25) Phase 1 network.

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