FirstNet Board Lays Out 2020 Priorities, Looks Back at 2019 Accomplishments
Friday, December 06, 2019 | Comments

During its final meeting of the year, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board looked back at 2019 and laid out its priorities for 2020.

FirstNet Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ed Parkinson said that FirstNet has five core priorities for the next year:
• Contract oversight. The organization will continue to ensure that contractor AT&T meets its obligations in delivering the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).
• Stakeholder engagement. FirstNet will continue to engage with public-safety stakeholders to understand their needs and fit the network to those needs. FirstNet also plans to expand relationships with industry and government to advance the network road map and inform future investments to the network.
• Road map implementation. FirstNet will continue to work to implement the goals outlined in the road map it released this year and will work to foster innovation to ensure the network meets first responders’ future needs.
• Strategic investment. FirstNet will work to enhance and scale its network investment program so that it can pursue reinvestment projects that will fit public safety’s operational needs. The road map will inform those investments.
• Organizational health. FirstNet wants to ensure a professional culture of service and dedication to public safety.

“We are so fortunate to have a team at FirstNet of the best people across the country,” Parkinson said. “We operate and have had events in every state and territory across the 50 states and territories and the District of Columbia in 2019, and we wish to double down on those efforts in 2020.”

Parkinson highlighted the release of the road map and the public-safety engagement that helped inform it as key accomplishments of 2019 because of the way they inform the direction of the organization and investment in the network.

“That is a necessary approach to make sure that we bring ideas that come from public safety so that we can make the best improvements we possibly can to the network going forward,” he said.

FirstNet Chief Technology and Operations Officer Jeff Bratcher highlighted the momentum of the network, noting that there are now more than 1 million devices connected to the network and more than 10,000 agencies have subscribed to FirstNet service.

Additionally, 675 out of 734 cellular market areas (CMAs) as defined by the FCC, or 92% of CMAs, have band 14 spectrum coverage, and AT&T has rolled out 75% of band 14 overall coverage across the nation, he said.

The buildout is about six to nine months ahead of schedule, Bratcher said. “They are pushing hard, and I know they are pushing their vendors hard to get this spectrum deployed and out across the country.”

Neil Cox, chair of FirstNet’s Technology Committee, talked about the committee’s work during 2019 and briefly addressed how FirstNet plans to implement 5G. FirstNet will work to implement 5G capabilities as soon as it can but wants to ensure those capabilities are mission critical, he said.

“We will do it at the right time for public safety,” Cox said. “… One of our responsibilities is to have the network evolve. We will do that, and we will do it at the right time for public safety. Our first goal is to get that coverage out there today, get it working and make this the best network that it can be.”

On the financial side, FirstNet spent $68 million of its approved obligations budget of $81 million and $60.6 million of its approved expense budget of $76.5 million for fiscal year 2019, which ended in September, said FirstNet Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Kim Farington.

Two factors caused the nearly $30 million difference between spent and allocated funds, she said. First, former FirstNet CEO Mike Poth left the organization near the start of the fiscal year and the organization has not yet named a permanent replacement. Because of this, FirstNet has held off from filling certain vacancies or hiring behind people who were leaving until a new permanent CEO is found, Farington said.

Second, FirstNet had two material contracts that did not make it through the full acquisition process before the end of the fiscal year, she said. Those two contracts will be obligated or planned to be obligated during the 2020 fiscal year.

“The good news about these variances is we do not lose these funds,” Farington said. “The unobligated balances, they will actually carry over to next year and future fiscal years in support of the operations budget and also reinvestment back into the network.”

The FirstNet board also presented the 2019 Harlin R. McEwen Public-Safety Broadband Communications Award to Sheriff Neil Miller of Buffalo County, Nebraska. Miller was instrumental in helping bring FirstNet to Nebraska as a chair and member of the Nebraska Broadband Working Group and also helped launch E9-1-1 and text to 9-1-1 in Buffalo County, said FirstNet Board Chair Ed Horowitz.

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