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If FirstNet is not the answer, does someone have a better alternative?

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Some have asserted that Republicans would want to torpedo FirstNet if the party is successful in the November elections. Given the structure of FirstNet's RFP, such a strategy would not make a lot of sense.

It’s a rumor that started within a week of Congress passing the legislation that created FirstNet, and it’s one that just won’t die, particularly in the heated political environment that exists during the months leading up to a presidential election.

There are multiple versions with different wrinkles offered, but the basic premise is fairly straightforward: Republicans will want to kill FirstNet quickly, if the party gains control of the presidency and Congress in November.

It was an argument that made sense for quite some time, especially if you believe in partisan politics and the notion that this FirstNet is perceived as a Democratic initiative.

If you remember the political landscape of 2012, FirstNet was established under a Democratic president. Its enabling legislation was pushed primarily by Democratic senator (Jay Rockefeller) and a Democratic vice president (Joe Biden). The concept was opposed primarily by Republican members in the House of Representatives.

When Congress passed the legislation, Rockefeller immediately conducted a press conference and indicated that the $7 billion for FirstNet was just a start, and that additional federal funding would be needed. Republican critics pointed to the statement as another stereotypical tax-and-spend statement from a Democrat.

But the bigger issue soon became whether FirstNet would be able to get anything meaningful done, as the organization made no tangible progress during its first two years. Not only was the notion of giving FirstNet additional funds off the table, many critics cited FirstNet’s $7 billion as an example of wasteful government spending.

Today, the landscape is very different, although you might not realize it based on questions raised during the past few months in a congressional research paper, a House hearing and a Senate hearing. To a large extent, the same questions continue to be rehashed, with more attention being focused on FirstNet’s internal-control problems from two years ago than whether it can build a nationwide public-safety broadband network. In many cases, you have to wonder whether people bothered to read FirstNet’s request for proposal (RFP).

Long-term financial sustainability seemed to be the biggest issue for FirstNet for years. After all, FirstNet only had $7 billion in funding for a project that most estimated to cost at least $40 billion initially, even before maintenance and upgrades were factored into the equation. Personally, I questioned whether it could be done.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Jun 24, 2016

Hummm...A Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network with a whopping 20 Megs of bandwidth is absurd. Our nations First Responders have broadband today via the carriers, how much are they paying today per state? Interoperability exists today as well, if different agencies need to or even care to they can. Ok...so what is a better idea.....I'm not sure, but we need to re-examine the true cost, its real benefits and what limits need to imposed on the Feds. Today, they are looking to shut down our nations local PSAPS for 3 regional PSAP Centers. This is a true power grab and it represents more than we are aware of....

Anonymousradiousers (not verified)
on Jul 22, 2016

Yea, how about let the demand drive the market in the commercial cellular world. Let the govt help administer and fund hardening of existing cell networks and dictate addition buildout. I'm certain it will be a lot easier and cheaper.

GBH (not verified)
on Jul 22, 2016

I hate to cast dispersions on anything for the public safety folks, but the Federal Governments track record of putting together large projects like this--is simply not good. Too much politics--too many special interests--too little cost control--one size fits all approach. When I was involved with a similiar project 15 years ago, the same applied and local public safety entities were afraid to get the feds into their lives. Im thinking the best approach is going to be to let each locality build their own network, which does what they need and costs what they can afford!

Taxpaying Public Safety Employee (not verified)
on Nov 9, 2016

The question: If FirstNet is not the answer, does someone have a better alternative?

My answer: Yes, do nothing. Don't waste any more taxpayer dollars on a solution in search of a problem. Stop now, and shut the project down. This is a MUCH better alternative to spending $12 Billion to $47 billion dollars on a problem that doesn't exist.

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Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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