During their second meeting,board members this week wrestled with one of the fundamental challenges that will be associated with deploying a nationwide network for public-safety use: balancing a desire to deliver tangible results as quickly as possible with the need to have a transparent process that reflects input from first responders.
After high-level network and applications concepts were presented during the FirstNet board's initial meeting in September, some public-safety officials expressed concern that critical decisions were being made without input from the board in an open meeting and without consultation with the broader public-safety community that is expected to use the much-anticipated network. Meanwhile, other industry sources have estimated that it could be 8-10 years before significant deployment will begin, because of the network's size, scope and complexity.
During a discussion of responses to the recent notice-of-inquiry (NOI) proceeding, FirstNet board member and EMS official Kevin McGinnis said that he believes "there are two very different ways of building a system … a public-safety way … and a corporate way."
Because of the government nature of public-safety agencies, network deployments require considerable planning, transparency and "endless" review, which sometimes results in a system not being built at all. In contrast, the corporate approach is to focus on taking action quickly with little transparency "by virtue of necessity," because companies do not want to reveal their strategies to competitors, McGinnis said. In the case of the LTE network envisioned by FirstNet — leveraging commercial technology for public-safety use — neither approach is ideal, he said.
"I think we need to strive for some place in between those," McGinnis said during the meeting on Tuesday. "This [NOI process] has served a great purpose in trying to get us to find ourselves in terms of our obligations for transparency, and yet our obligations to move this thing ahead."
FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn — who earlier in the meeting described the FirstNet LTE endeavor as "one of the most complex telecommunications projects in the history of the United States" — agreed with McGinnis, but reiterated his desire to make the public-safety network a reality as quickly as possible.
"I think, to some extent, you are going to have to control your chairman," Ginn said, referring to himself. "Because I come from the commercial world, and I admit that I have a bias for action — get it done, make it move. And, to the extent that does not allow us to communicate properly with our users, you need to pull me back. So, I do acknowledge that.
"But I'm going to have my foot on the accelerator, because I really understand how complicated this project is and how much effort it is going to take. I think that, if you don't do that, we are likely not to ever get this network built."
McGinnis emphasized that he also wants the project to yield tangible results quickly, and not wait the 8-10 years that some skeptics have estimated will pass before widespread deployment occurs.
"I want to prove them wrong, and I think you are the right guy to do it," McGinnis said to Ginn.
Ginn responded, "We definitely can prove them wrong."
Also during the meeting, FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson — earlier in the meeting named as FirstNet's acting user-advocacy officer, until someone is hired to fill the post — outlined plans to increase outreach about the network, including participation in public-safety association events and industry trade shows. In addition, 37 of the 41 seats on FirstNet's public-safety advisory committee (PSAC) have been filled, he said.
In addition, FirstNet board member Craig Farrill — FirstNet's new acting general manager until a full-time staffer is hired — noted that the "largest portion" of $10 million allocated by the board will be used for outreach efforts.