Carriers Back Colorado Request for FirstNet Interoperability
Thursday, August 16, 2018 | Comments

Two regional commercial carriers filed letters of support for a request from the Colorado Public Safety Broadband Governing Body (CPSBGB) that the FCC ensure interoperability for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Colorado’s original filing was July 6. However, the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT), Broadband Office, backtracked on the request in a July 13 filing with the FCC.

Southern Linc, an Atlanta-based regional wireless carrier with network coverage throughout Alabama, Georgia, southeast Mississippi and the Florida panhandle, said in its letter it remains concerned that AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) have begun to establish new barriers to interoperability between public-safety communications systems and other wireless networks in the United States.

“The ability to exchange information between applications, databases and systems will save lives and property and protect first responders,” Southern Linc said. “Erecting artificial impediments to interoperability through silence and inaction will not.”

The Southeast carrier said the legislation that created FirstNet said an essential duty of FirstNet is to work with the commission and other stakeholders to ensure “nationwide standards for use and access to the network” and to promote competition by requiring that equipment for use on the network be “built to open, nonproprietary, commercially available standards” and be “capable of being used by any public-safety entity and by multiple vendors across all public-safety broadband networks operating in the 700 MHz band.”

Southern Linc is launching a mission-critical Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, called CriticalLinc, that features redundant power systems in 99 percent of its cell sites, 24/7 network monitoring, and push-to-talk (PTT) functionality such as call priority and pre-emption.

“But without clear interoperability standards imposed on AT&T and FirstNet, first responders will be unable to securely and directly communicate with other jurisdictions in the way they expect, and as is currently available on many existing, interoperable statewide LMR networks,” the letter said. “This very predictable scenario will leave first responders worse off under FirstNet than under the status quo.”

Cellular South, doing business as C Spire and providing critical voice and data communications services to Mississippi first responders and public-safety officials, also filed a letter in support of the CPSBGB request.

“We agree with Colorado that, given the current market share of both C Spire and AT&T in Mississippi, it is likely that during an incident in which many jurisdictions or agencies respond, multiple commercial networks will be providing communications services to public-safety users,” C Spire said.

The letter said that based on the current implementation of network-based applications such as PTT and eventually mission-critical PTT (MCPTT) the carrier foresees a situation where Mississippi’s first responders will be unable to securely and directly communicate with other jurisdictions or agencies, as is available on Mississippi’s existing, interoperable statewide Project 25 (P25) network.

“C Spire agrees with Colorado that, despite the critical need for interoperability, AT&T and FirstNet appear to have no intention of establishing standards or agreements with other commercial carriers to ensure prioritized interoperability for critical public-safety applications and access,” the letter said. “We therefore concur with Colorado that the commission should clarify that interoperability is a fundamental responsibility of FirstNet and that FirstNet must ensure interoperability is supported at all levels, including sharing priority and pre-emption protocols, applications, local control, non-mission-critical and MCPTT communications and off-air device-to-device communications.”

Both carriers said the FCC should put the Colorado petition on public notice to allow other interested parties and public safety to provide input on the aspect of public-safety interoperability through a transparent process.

Southern Linc’s filing is here, and the C Spire letter is here.

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