Lawmakers Question T-Band, Interoperability Coordinators, FirstNet Funding During Hearing
Monday, October 16, 2017 | Comments

The House emergency preparedness, response and communications subcommittee held a hearing titled “Assessing First Responder Communications” that touched on topics from the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to T-band spectrum to the reduction in the number of statewide interoperability coordinators (SWICs).

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Dan Donovan from New York City said first responders will continue to depend on LMR for mission-critical voice communications.

“I am concerned about a requirement that first responder radio networks operating on the T-band must migrate off that spectrum by 2021,” he said. “This will have significant impact on a number of major metropolitan areas, including New York City, and studies have suggested that there isn’t sufficient alternative spectrum for these jurisdictions to use.”

Hearing witness Ronald Hewitt, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Emergency Communications (OEC), said there are few options for relocating T-band users and OEC would like to work with Rep. Donovan and his staff on options and potential solutions.

FirstNet Director of Government Affairs Ed Parkinson said the T-band spectrum is an issue for the FCC, and FirstNet’s focus is on deploying the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Rep. Donald Payne from New Jersey said he is concerned about the decreasing number of SWICs. He said SWICs have been an integral part of implementing and coordinating emergency communications plans and asked why only a few states are funding full-time SWICs.

Hewitt said the number of full-time SWICs has declined from 44 at one time to the current 12. Hewitt said funding, particularly the elimination of the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant (IECG) program, to pay for SWICs has dried up.

In 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation called the SWIC Enhancement Act (H.R. 2206), which would have required states to have a SWIC or to delegate activities related to achieving interoperability to other individuals. The Senate didn’t pass the bill.

When asked about FirstNet funding, Parkinson said FirstNet will be financially self sustaining “into perpetuity.” He said the FirstNet contract with AT&T shifts the risk away from the federal government and onto AT&T.

Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), was less optimistic. “It remains unclear about how viable the network will be,” he said.

Goldstein said many factors affect FirstNet’s sustainability including how and where it is built out, who subscribes and its competitors. “It’s not to say FirstNet isn’t doing everything it can, but there are a great number of unknowns and challenges going forward,” he said.

Several lawmakers asked about recent hurricanes and FirstNet’s resiliency plans. Parkinson said FirstNet “will require the network to be built to a sufficient level of hardening” using a Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC) report on standards for hardening. He said FirstNet will leverage deployables and preposition assets during disasters — all of which will be coordinated at the state level.

Parkinson said identity, credentials and access management (ICAM) will allow budget-constrained agencies to bring their own devices and be credentialed on the network. He also noted the coverage requirements in the statute that created FirstNet and in its contract with AT&T, including rural buildout milestones.

Parkinson said FirstNet is waiting for governors to make opt-in or opt-out decisions. “That [opt-out] process could take up to two years and lays a large financial obligation onto the state,” he said. “We will do anything we can to help that state and integrate it with the nationwide public-safety broadband network.”

Goldstein highlighted FirstNet’s oversight role. “FirstNet will have to ensure that AT&T has the capacity and resources to refresh the technology as time goes on …” he said. “Their Network Program Office (NPO) will have to ensure AT&T is providing the best possible services and technology because if not, subscribers will walk and the network won’t be successful.”

A GAO report released earlier this year identified outreach to tribal stakeholders and future staffing for the NPO as potential areas of concern for FirstNet.

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Comments
On 10/18/17, Richard I Terwilliger said:
I am hoping the Congressional Fire Caucus takes up the T-band issue. There are many police, fire and EMS agencies throughout the U.S. that are going to be impacted by this. FirstNet cannot replace LMR communications. Congess should amend the law and remove the T-band migration requirement. If that gets accomplished, the FCC should apply the narrowbanding requirement to T-band users as they were exempted. This would make available additional frequencies for the future. Agencies below 470 MHz had complied with the narrowband mandate, and the FCC has yet to refarm the spectrum that narrowbanding made available.

On 10/18/17, Ron Smith said:
I can agree with Mr. Terwilliger as far as it goes. However, there are significant numbers of commercial users in the T-band spectrum whose radio interests are also impacted by the uncertain future. With the lack of additional spectrum to facilitate migration and no specified future for their T-Band systems, these users are unable to make responsible choices to address current and future requirements for radio communications. The FCC is not serving these users or public safety by doing nothing on this matter.

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