Urgent Matters

MythBusters: A FirstNet edition


Many things are being said about FirstNet, but not all of them are entirely accurate. Here's an attempt to clarify some potentially confusing statements that have been made about the much-anticipated nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

“Rivada Networks officials were arrested at the SPOC meeting”: There were no arrests, but Rivada Networks co-CEO Declan Ganley and Rivada Networks board member Martin O’Malley—the former governor of Maryland—were escorted away from the entrance to an opt-out session for single points of contact (SPOC) representing states early this month in a Dallas-area hotel.

Ganley said that he and O’Malley were registered hotel guests that week, and that Rivada Networks had rented a meeting room in a part of the hotel that was separate from the SPOC meeting. One morning, Ganley and O’Malley decided to distribute literature near the entrance to the opt-out session being run by FirstNet and AT&T on the second floor of the hotel.

After refusing requests from AT&T officials to leave the area, Ganley said he and O’Malley left after hotel security was summoned to rectify the situation. During an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications, the hotel manager said that Ganley and O’Malley lacked the proper credentials to be in that part of the hotel and were escorted away from the area without incident.

“Opt-out states might not get access to all 20 MHz of FirstNet’s Band 14 spectrum”: This is not one of the more commonly quoted myths within the public-safety industry, but it has been cited repeated for the past few years in reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which provides information to federal lawmakers on various issues.

“Information available to the public indicates that FirstNet intends to discourage states from building and operating their own networks within FirstNet, in part by limiting the amount of spectrum available for this purpose,” CRS states in a report published this year, repeating language found in many previous FirstNet reports from the service.

Unlike most items cited in CRS reports, this statement is not supported by a footnote or explained in greater detail later in the report. SPOCs and other state officials who have learned of this statement have expressed surprise, noting that no one from FirstNet has ever indicated to them that an opt-out state would be allowed to leverage less than the full 20 MHz of spectrum—and they hope it never happens.

Simply put, without access to the full 20 MHz, the economics associated with partnering with a vendor in an opt-out state may not work. A contractor constructing the RAN within an opt-out state needs to leverage the bandwidth capacity that is not used by public safety to sell commercial services that ultimately fund ongoing RAN operations and technological upgrades—the same business model that FirstNet is following with AT&T nationwide. If a percentage of the spectrum is removed from the equation, the business model would not work, in many cases.

Thankfully, this is not an issue, despite the repeated statements from the CRS. A FirstNet spokesman today confirmed that an opt-out state—after receiving the approvals from the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), as required by law—would have the opportunity to enter into a spectrum-lease agreement with FirstNet that would let the state utilize all 20 MHz of the Band 14 spectrum.

“States that accept the FirstNet plan will have to pay additional money to fund the buildout of the FirstNet system within the state’s borders”: This was a new one to me, but I have seen the assertion published in recent weeks. The basis of the assertion is a portion of the law that calls for FirstNet state plans to include “the funding level for the state, as determined by NTIA.”

The author interpreted this language to mean that NTIA would determine the amount that a state would have pay FirstNet—an understandable conclusion, if the sentence is read in isolation. However, the item follows a section referencing an NTIA grant program for the states. While not structured as clearly as it could have been, the item references NTIA funding levels that would be paid to the states, not funding that would be paid by the states.

FirstNet and AT&T officials repeatedly have stated that states that accept the FirstNet state plan will not have to pay any money to build, maintain or upgrade the RAN in the state for the next 25 years. This does not address items such as subscriptions, devices, applications or the notion that a state might choose to pursue an “opt-in-plus” model—a scenario under which a state would accept the FirstNet state plan but pay additional money to fund the buildout of additional coverage or capacity in locations important to the state.


This column is much longer than originally intended, and I apologize for that. However, my hope is that some of these explanations help provide clarity to a few issues, so officials can stakeholders more attention on other important items that need to be resolved before critical decisions are made about the future of public-safety communications.


Discuss this Blog Entry 6

AnonymousRadioNY (not verified)
on Jun 27, 2017

Please wake me up when its all over.. Nothing to see here except glorified cellular service and a tragic waste of publics money and time.

on Jun 28, 2017

This article brought to you by AT&T.

Mike Barney (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

Thanks for another poignant article Donny.
FirstNet is making good progress as states close in on the Opt-In / Out decision. I look forward to your next article, and to the Opt-In / Out session discussion at APCO in Denver.

98112 (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2017

The sad and tragic truth is that FirstNet is first and foremost about making a huge profit for one cellular provider. The Board has been stacked with conflicted insiders from day one. The whole process is under the Commerce Department not any direct public safety, intelligence, or military department. Talk about public safety being a priority is window dressing for the scheme, The entire FirstNet effort has been secretive, biased, and not in the best interest of any first responders. The foxes are in full control of the hen house. A total distortion of governance, and comprised of threats and arm twisting of the states.

on Jun 28, 2017

We need to keep our minds open about the FirstNet possibilities.
Are we stuck in our ways, unwilling to accept that the world of LMR is changing? Perhaps FirstNet might not work, initially for tactical or fire ground operations, but perhaps it would do well in dispatch operations. In time, it might be suitable for all operations. In the meantime, it might enable LMR users to improve their tactical and fire ground capabilities. If you look around many police and fire personnel are already making extensive use of their cell devices in performing their work.

With nation wide interoperability, the cost of LMR radio equipment going through the roof, and cell phone devices continuing to drop, how long before disposable ruggedized cell devices become the only solution especially for cash strapped users?

on Oct 8, 2017

The question for me is how can the nation keep pace with modern communications to include data and voice? The only way to make this happen is by jumping onto the LTE(Long Term Evolution ) train at some point so that the government is not held hostage by vendors overcharging for equipment that is tailored for a single market. Having space as needed for Public Safety while having subsidised operational cost should be good for many. Lets work out the bugs as we go.

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What's Urgent Matters?

Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.


Donny Jackson

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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