Dismantling the Vision of FirstNet Doesn’t Benefit Public Safety
By Jeff Johnson
Tuesday, January 22, 2019 | Comments
As public servants, we’ve dedicated our lives to serving our communities, putting the safety and well-being of others before our own and always doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the easiest. We’re also dedicated to speaking up when something isn’t right.

So, I’m speaking up. There’s a lot of misinformation in the marketplace around the topic of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) and interoperability. It should come as no surprise that the misinformation is largely driven by a commercial wireless carrier, operating a consumer network, that is worried about losing its current public-safety customers to FirstNet’s dedicated public-safety service.

Now that FirstNet is real, its build well underway, and its positive impact for public safety palpable, this same consumer-focused carrier is asking public safety and government to let it in on FirstNet and using “interoperability” as the mantle to do it.

On the surface, it almost sounds convincing — like they have public safety’s best interests at heart. But when you look a little closer, the rhetoric is nothing more than a scare tactic to protect its bottom line, not to help public safety.

FirstNet exists solely to provide first responders with a consistent communications platform nationwide — with the capabilities and reliable connection we need to more efficiently and effectively achieve our critical missions. The network operates on a dedicated, physically separate core where only our public-safety traffic rides, precisely what we asked for. No other wireless provider can say that about its public-safety offering because FirstNet is the only communications platform created through the lens and with the oversight of public safety.

Following the communications challenges that first responders experienced during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, public safety championed the vision behind FirstNet, a single, nationwide broadband network that will drive common operability for all first responders across all agencies and jurisdictions. This vision became the legislation that led to the creation of FirstNet.

The claims by Verizon and its supporters that it is not realistic or practical for all first responders to use a single network ignores the vision of Congress and all of the major national public-safety organizations when they passed the law in 2012 that required building the FirstNet nationwide public-safety broadband network. The vision was to have one network where all public-safety entities and personnel could interoperate with each other on a nationwide basis. Public-safety leaders did not support then, or now, a patchwork of network cores fragmented across multiple providers like Verizon is now advocating.

Verizon, and its paid supporters, are trying to dismantle that vision by spinning misleading concerns about interoperability. They’d like you to think FirstNet is being built in a silo and that those of us on the FirstNet core won’t be able to communicate with first responders that choose to stay on consumer networks.

That isn’t true. FirstNet is interoperable with other Long Term Evolution (LTE) and radio networks today. AT&T, the private-sector partner responsible for delivering FirstNet, is building the platform on open industry standards. FirstNet subscribers nationwide can talk, text and communicate with customers on all other consumer wireless networks, and vice versa, benefitting from cross-network interoperability every day.

FirstNet is also driving interoperability between the FirstNet communications platform and LMR systems to provide public safety with LMR to LTE push-to-talk (PTT) solutions. AT&T recently announced plans to offer standards-based, interoperable mission-critical PTT (MCPTT) solutions for FirstNet by the second half of 2019.

So, what does Verizon have to gain by doing this? Verizon's concerns could serve as a platform to force the specially built, physically separate FirstNet core to directly tie into a Verizon “virtual” core that carries both consumer and public-safety traffic over the same physical facilities.

This is not what public safety fought for. But, it would give Verizon the ability to profit off FirstNet, its unique features and the investments others have made in public safety. Moreover, if Verizon gets its way, it could evade oversight from Congress or the federal government because Verizon isn’t part of the congressionally enacted public-private partnership.

When there is no accountability, it opens the door for some providers to put their bottom lines before the needs of public safety, and there is no one to ensure those providers follow through on the hollow commitments they make. Verizon appears to be so focused on competing with FirstNet that it has lost sight of who it is supposed to be serving: public safety.

We fought for FirstNet for good reason. So, I’m asking the public-safety community to not be fooled by the misleading information some carriers are injecting into the marketplace. Hold your wireless carrier accountable. Ask questions. And rest assured that there is an option, FirstNet, that’s built just for us.

Jeff Johnson is the executive director of the Western Fire Chiefs Association and the publisher of the Daily Dispatch. He served 15 years as the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Fire Chief. He’s also the former vice chairman of First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

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On 1/30/19, Ron Cioffi said:
Interesting article. The reality of the world we live in is that seldom will we see a success story when a totally fragmented environment relies on a one-cure-fits-all. For example, the FirstNet process of approving devices for use is contrary to the reality of providing a needed bridge coupled with the fact that limitations will exist in nonurban environments. Unfortunately billions of dollars, if not allocated to projects like FirstNet, end up invested in more of the same components and or devices that do not satisfy IMAT mission objectives. Where is the bridge? Where is the solution for most of the geography of America?
Fortunately, it does exist and we look forward to filling that gap.

On 1/30/19, Mike said:
I agree with John Doe. All I hear is roses from AT&T but the reality for me is that I'm still getting the same spotty service I was getting with AT&T. Also I no longer get Wi-Fi calling, which I used a lot and compensated for the lack of service in almost all the areas I spent a lot of time in. I hope things change because to me it's all more of the same, AT&T promising bull.

On 1/29/19, John Doe said:
I have to say all I have heard from Firstnet is nothing but a sales pitch for AT&T service. Here in my area, band 14 coverage is horrible. Verizon covereage and service are better, so why wouldn't i go with them now, and when band 14 is fully built and has better or equal coverage than the regular carrier, we can talk. But for now all we are getting is sales pitches.


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