FirstNet will continue to work with public-safety representatives to ensure that its nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) evolves to meet first responders’ needs during the next 25 years, FirstNet officials said last week during the APCO 2017 show in Denver.

FirstNet has been focused for the past several years to conduct a procurement to select a contractor to build and maintain the NPSBN for the next 25 years—AT&T was awarded the deal in March—but the organization will fill a different role as the network becomes operational in the future, according to FirstNet Chairwoman Sue Swenson.

“The construct of having FirstNet—I think—is particularly important for public safety going forward, because it’s an organization that really will serve as an advocate for public safety going forward,” Swenson said during a panel discussion. “Obviously, this network is public safety’s network; they’ve designed it, and we’re really here as the facilitators and caretakers of that.”

In this role, FirstNet also will continue to work with the public-safety community to ensure that “what public safety wants is what public safety gets” and that AT&T fulfills its contractual obligations, according to Swenson, who has supported an expanded role for the Public Safety Advisory Committee since becoming chairwoman.

“I think it’s important to understand that FirstNet will continue to play a role to make sure that AT&T conforms to the contract,” she said. “This is a very complex effort. It’s not just building a network, it’s building an organization, and FirstNet will continue to play a very important part to actually oversee and make sure that AT&T delivers what they are supposed to.

“Sometimes, I think people forget what the role of FirstNet is going forward. It’s not just to do what we did so far. We have a continuing role in holding AT&T accountable for delivering on what they promised.”

FirstNet board member Kevin McGinnis echoed this sentiment.

“FirstNet’s Job 1 is public safety. And our oversight of what becomes the network—and anything that you encounter on the network going forward—we need to hear about it, if it’s not satisfactory,” McGinnis said during the panel discussion. “Because it’s our job to make sure that it will be [satisfactory to public safety].”

Chris Sambar, senior vice president of AT&T – FirstNet, said that FirstNet’s oversight role is understood by AT&T employees and noted that the FirstNet role as a public-safety advocate should make a FirstNet subscription more attractive to first-responder organizations than traditional commercial offerings.

“You’ve got a federal entity that’s got a contractual commitment with us,” Sambar said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “They’re going to hold us accountable to perform in accordance to the contract.

“Public-safety entities sometimes go to us [with questions and responses], and sometimes they go to FirstNet, and then FirstNet comes to us. We’re going to be responsive, regardless who comes to us. But, hey, we’ve got a big federal entity watching us.”

While FirstNet is responsible for holding AT&T accountable, FirstNet also is held accountable—by public safety, according to Swenson.

“Public safety holds us accountable,” Swenson said. “We’re here for them. We’re not here just to be here; we’re here to really represent and support public safety. That has been our mission from Day 1 and will continue to be our mission.”

FirstNet CTO Jeff Bratcher noted that FirstNet officials conducted extensive outreach efforts with public safety in preparation for the nationwide procurement process and vowed that such efforts will continue after the public-safety broadband network is operational.
“We will not stop doing that; that will continue for the foreseeable future,” Bratcher said during the APCO panel discussion. “We want to ensure that this network is giving public safety the features it needs and meets its needs for mission-critical communications.”