AT&T’s Sambar Addresses Transparency, Accountability Criticisms
Monday, November 20, 2017 | Comments

An AT&T executive addressed criticisms the company has received regarding the lack of transparency surrounding its contract with the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), as well as accountability measures.

“There’s a lot of sniping going on in general,” said Chris Sambar, AT&T senior vice president, during an interview with MissionCritical Communications. “At some point, you have to take a step back and say we’re not trying to take people for a ride. If you look at the [FirstNet] rates, they’re not that high. It’s not a money-making scheme.”

Indeed, some statewide contracts are publicly available, with monthly prices around $40 per device for unlimited data, text and voice.

Sambar compared the AT&T contract with FirstNet to a contract between the carrier and the Department of Defense (DoD). “You don’t broadcast details because architecture, security — those are details you don’t want everyone to know,” he said.

Sambar also said the carrier doesn’t want its competitors to know where it plans to build towers.

FirstNet’s contract with AT&T has several accountability mechanisms including milestone payments, adoption targets and others, a FirstNet spokesman said earlier this year. However, the details of the contract are not publicly available.

During an industry conference Nov. 9, FirstNet CEO Mike Poth said FirstNet’s focus is public safety, and AT&T has hit every mark so far. “We’re going to absolutely hold [AT&T] accountable,” Poth said.

However, many state officials are concerned about a lack of oversight for the buildout process and the lack of recourse for states if FirstNet and AT&T don’t deliver what is outlined in the state plans.

Sambar compared the FirstNet contract with the contracts that public-safety agencies have with vendors for their LMR networks. “They don’t have in writing everything about their network,” he said. “But I get it; it’s frustrating for public safety. But they wouldn’t do that with their own networks. I like to think in time people will feel better about it.”

Sambar said he sees FirstNet’s role in the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NSPBN) as two-fold. “The foundation is a government contract, and that’s important to the states,” he said. “We have things we are contractually required to do. FirstNet must hold us accountable to hit those milestones, and we don’t get paid unless we do.”

The second role is the partnership FirstNet has with public safety. “FirstNet has spent years talking with public safety, and we want to take their advice,” Sambar said.

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