Records Show FirstNet, AT&T Execs Pressured Colorado Officials After LTE Interoperability Filing
Tuesday, August 21, 2018 | Comments

First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and AT&T executives criticized a July 6 Colorado Public Safety Broadband Governing Body (CPSBGB) filing on public-safety interoperability in emails to officials in the Governor’s Office, and an AT&T executive suggested collusion between a Colorado state official and Verizon, according to emails obtained from a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.

A week later, the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), Broadband Office backtracked on its request for the FCC to clarify the guidelines for commercial network interoperability for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN). Colorado also appointed a new FirstNet single point of contact (SPOC) 10 days after the original filing.

In a July 7 email, one day after the CPSBGB filing, Ed Parkinson, FirstNet director of government affairs, called the filing “very unprofessional and years late.”

“Clearly trying to do the work of a vendor,” Parkinson said in the Saturday email to Simon Tafoya, senior director for policy and federal relations in the Colorado Office of Governor.

On July 9 Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T FirstNet, emailed Tafoya and Anthony Neal-Graves, executive director of the state’s Broadband Office, about the filing. The subject line of the email was “Anti-FirstNet.”

“The attached is an incredibly disappointing move on the part of CO after your governor chose to opt in,” Sambar said. “Perhaps the team that is doing this doesn’t understand that the long term goal of this action, is to end the FirstNet program. Can we talk today sometime?”

Tafoya responded that he “was unaware of this filing.” July 9 emails confirm a phone call being scheduled between Tafoya and Sambar.

The CPSBGB, formerly the Colorado FirstNet Governing Body, comprises 15 public-safety professionals from around Colorado, along with Brian Shepherd, Colorado’s chief operating officer (COO) of the Colorado Broadband Office. Until July 16, Shepherd was Colorado’s SPOC.

“It was filed because we believe interoperability is very important for public safety, not just that apps are interoperable between systems but different systems are interoperable,” said Carl Stephens, a member of the CPSBGB and executive director at the Garfield Emergency Communications Authority in Rifle, Colorado, in July. “While I believe strongly in FirstNet and am hopeful for its future, right now I believe it does not fit many agencies’ needs. Each agency has different needs, but one of the common concerns I hear is that lack of coverage requires these agencies to use other providers, and we need all these providers to work together to create an interoperable system. That’s why I support the governing board’s filling.”

Sambar sent an email to Tafoya July 12 with an example FCC filing from an entity withdrawing its request for an unrelated petition for clarification.

“Talking to my lawyers you just need to file a new letter in the docket requesting (and referencing) that you want the earlier filing withdrawn,” the email said. “Here is an example of one we have done in the past.”

The email was forwarded to Neal-Graves who confirmed he would “work on a draft based on this input.” A letter signed by Shepherd was filed with the FCC July 13. The letter said Colorado acknowledges the FirstNet interoperability concerns raised by the CPSBGB in its July 6 filing. “However, on behalf of the CPSBGB, we request that the commission not take any further action on this matter at this time,” said the letter.

A July 12 FCC ex parte filing from Verizon with the subject “Re: Procedures for Commission Review of State Opt-Out Requests from the FirstNet Radio Access Network, PS Docket No. 16-269” requested that the commission place CPSBGB’s request on public notice as soon as possible.

Early in the morning of July 13, AT&T FirstNet’s Sambar sent an email to Tafoya and Neal-Graves about the Verizon filing, suggesting collusion between a Colorado state official — presumably Shepherd — and Verizon.

“As I mentioned the seemingly collusive efforts of Sheppard and VZ have resulted in VZ insinuating in a letter to the FCC that the state of Colorado is considering opting out of FirstNet based on that subject line,” Sambar wrote in the email.

In the email thread, FirstNet CEO Mike Poth sent an email early July 13 to Sambar that read: “Chris, FYI. I thought CO was withdrawing the request.” The Colorado letter withdrawing its request was filed the afternoon of July 13.

AT&T didn’t respond to a question about whether executives had evidence of collusion in Colorado.

Following a MissionCritical Communications email to Shepherd asking if he had colluded with Verizon regarding FirstNet or LTE services for public safety, a state spokeswoman responded with the following statement: “The Colorado Broadband Office’s priority is serving the first responder community and the residents of our state while acting with integrity and respect when conducting business with our partners. One of our primary goals is to ensure interoperability so that first responders will experience seamless communications regardless of their service provider. We work with FirstNet and local first responders to ensure that Colorado has a well-functioning public-safety broadband network that is compatible with local service providers. Beyond that, we have no control over localities’ choice of provider.”

Tafoya emailed a letter signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper designating Neal-Graves as the FirstNet SPOC to Parkinson July 16. Shepherd had served as Colorado’s SPOC since FirstNet first named SPOCs for each state.

“Given the new structure of the Colorado Broadband Office led by Executive Director Anthony (Tony) Neal-Graves, we believed the responsibility of SPOC was best owned by Tony,” said the spokeswoman for the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology.

“Communications will still work between FirstNet and other networks just as they do today with commercial carriers — all LTE is inherently interoperable,” said a FirstNet spokesperson in response to a question about whether FirstNet has any concerns regarding interoperability at an incident where first responders are using different commercial networks for LTE service.

In response to the same question, an AT&T spokesperson said: “FirstNet is being built on open industry standards, which means that FirstNet subscribers will be able to communicate with customers of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile, and vice versa, just as they can today. But first responders will only have the transformative capabilities and benefits of FirstNet services on the FirstNet communications platform. Without always-on priority and pre-emption or the platform’s dedicated, additional coverage and capacity, first responders without FirstNet services are at risk of facing the same communications challenges and congestion during emergencies that have plagued them in the past — which is what helped spark the need for FirstNet.”

When asked if FirstNet had evidence that Colorado collaborated with a vendor(s) regarding the filing, the spokesperson said FirstNet is not able to comment on private communications with states.

This month two regional commercial carriers filed letters of support for the CPSBGB request that the FCC ensure interoperability for the NPSBN.

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Comments
On 8/26/18, Stan Santos said:
AT&T does not build true Sonet rings and cannot guarantee immediate restoration of service in the event of damage to buried fiber or copper cable. Cable failures occur frequently in rural areas affecting community and government services, 9-1-1 and cell towers due to digging, drilling, tunneling or other work in the substrate. Under true Sonet architecture, a simple side switch moves traffic to an alternate path. With no true Sonet rings, service cannot be restored until the system receives an alarm, and if monitored, a crew is dispatched to locate and repair, which may take up to 24 hours or more.

On 8/24/18, DCSERKITS said:
The mandate to shift public safety's market share to a proprietary single-provider service does not meet any definition of interoperability, especially SAFECOM's definition.

On 8/24/18, AggravatedEMT said:
So let me get this straight ... The Colorado SPOC and their broadband committee raise a legitimate question about a legitimate issue to the FCC and then suddenly both AT&T and FirstNet intimidate the Governor's Office into caving in to political pressure and firing the SPOC over this. Did I miss anything here?

Unbelievably bad optics here — talk about unprofessional. This type of heavy-handed pressure from AT&T is bad enough, but the federal FirstNet organization also jumping on the political pressure bandwagon is stunning. I thought FirstNet was supposed to support public safety, not be a hammer to smack down folks who question the program. And let's not forget the courageous politicians and appointees who turned tail when the corporate pressure was ramped up.

There are many who believe that FirstNet is a giant boondoggle, and this sad episode will do nothing to stop the rumors that public safety is going to be somehow forced into FirstNet. And just to be clear, enquiring minds want to know: If FirstNet has some sort of an issue in the future and someone points it out, will they be fired also? If someone deals with Verizon or has a personal Verizon account, will they now be open to charges of collusion?

Shame on all the players in this sad tale for their heavy-handed and extremely unprofessional behavior all around.


On 8/23/18, Rajan Chadha said:
A leading U.S. newspaper gives an example of the deadly flooding in India's southern state of Kerala, detailing heart-breaking consequences — hundreds of deaths, hundreds of thousands of people left homeless and billions of dollars in losses to banks. People could not communicate. LTE+Cable+ Satellite failed when they needed the most. Similar scenarios have happened in other parts of the world.
This raises an important question. Will the FirstNet architecture survive If the above large extent of disaster on a wide area happens inclusive of roaming partners who will be equally disconnected because of the huge areas covered by disasters. This question has not been debated. Do we need alternate access infrastructure to the existing ones currently offered by telcos?

On 8/23/18, Thomas Doyle said:
The AT&T FirstNet team continue to do first responders a disservice by spending excessive time energy and resources belittling Verizon and anyone who dares to ask pointed questions about interoperability or the actual logistics of how this program is supposed to work.

Collusion— any proof or was this just an attempt to stifle someone who dared ask questions relative to the program?

It remains quite the mystery how first responders will be better served by having one network provider not multiple. The last time I checked it's competition that typically improves products and services. I'd fault Verizon for not responding to the FirstNet RFP, and I certainly was not privy to their rationale, but the continuing demonization of them when they have 60 to 70 percent of the public safety market is ridiculous. A better plan — let any carrier interconnect with AT&T FirstNet if they meet legitimate technical requirements and let customers decide for themselves whose service they want to pay for.


On 8/22/18, NYRadio said:
It's unreal that anyone is taking this FirstNet thing seriously. It's all a big cash grab scam.

On 8/22/18, Stephen Whitaker said:
It was the Colorado Broadband Office that admirably and responsibly articulated for all of America's first responders, competing cellular carriers and rural wireless telcos the interoperability coverage and redundancy problems created by AT&T's anti-competitive and unsafe insistence on prohibiting transparent FirstNet roaming and precluding the Verizon nationwide public-safety core from interoperating with AT&T's FirstNet core and serving as a resiliency and redundancy measure for a more robust FirstNet architecture.

All 4G LTE carriers can already implement priority and pre-emption services for their subscribers. What is lacking is a state-by-state vendor-neutral registration and verification system for eligible FirstNet users. All carriers meeting the necessary standards for resiliency and hardening should be allowed to roam and interconnect with all services available across a FirstNet architecture.

Do your homework. Exert state oversight of verified wireless coverage tower and backhaul, self-healing ring resiliency and hardening, backup power, privacy transparency and planning integration.

My arguments are in no way invested nor colluded with Verizon or any other carriers but are intended to point toward a truly interoperable, resilient and competitive FirstNet implementation integrated with microcells and state broadband planning.

On 8/21/18, William Malone said:
FirstNet and AT&T just can't help themselves. They believe that all public-safety business is a no option allowed entitlement for them. A state opting in has nothing to do with specific agencies electing whom they do business with, so the pressure is put on indirectly and directly to persuade adoption decisions in favor of FirstNet AT&T. Creating any form of support for alternatives to FirstNet will be hard fought. FirstNet is known to have had severe lacks of transparency from time to time; as such no one should be surprised that leverage would be applied by interested parties upon governments to stack the deck.
Colorado is currently a very, very strong public safety Verizon user. So again no surprise.


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