What is in this article?:
Right now, it's anyone's guess as to what the proposed nationwide network for first responders ultimately will look like.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2013 print issue with the headline: Place your bets.
On Feb. 22, 2012, President Barack Obama signed into law comprehensive legislation that included language designed to make the vision of a nationwide broadband network for first responders a reality. The new law reallocated the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety, dedicated $7 billion to deploy the network, and established a new entity calledto oversee the massive project.
Most public-safety officials celebrated their hard-fought victory, eager for applications made possible by broadband, and vendors scrambled quickly to prepare new business plans built around. With Congress supplying the key components in its legislation, anticipation for the next steps in a long process was at its height.
Slightly more than a year later, there are very few signs that public-safety LTE has moved forward since Obama signed the legislation into law — no new networks and no definitive plan for the future. In fact, some critics have argued that public-safety LTE has suffered a setback during this period, because the(NTIA) halted high-profile public-safety LTE projects funded by federal stimulus grant money in the Broadband Technologies Opportunity Program (BTOP).
While there is an absence of tangible results and broadband networks at the moment, FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn said he believes that is about to change.
"I do think we're on the knee of the curve, and I think, from here, you're going to see a lot more activity and a lot more progress in architecting the network, our outreach programs and all of the other things that we've talked about today," Ginn said during the FirstNet meeting in February.
Addressing early frustrations
Such progress cannot come soon enough for some in the industry. In January, an industry roundtable of vendors and some public-safety officials expressed concern with the FirstNet board's actions — or lack thereof — during its first four months of existence.
During this session, myriad criticisms were leveled at the FirstNet board. Some expressed frustration about the absence of deployments, while one participant argued that the FirstNet board already had violated the law with the manner in which it was proceeding. But the biggest gripe was that the FirstNet board lacked transparency in its actions and had not communicated enough with public safety or the vendor community that supports it.
Brian Hendricks, director of public policy forNetworks, said that FirstNet was operating in a "cone of silence" and that he could not even get its representatives to meet with him.
"It leaves most of us with the sense that we're sort of fumbling around in the dark for the light switch," Hendricks said during the roundtable session. "We're now a couple of months removed from 133 NOI [notice of inquiry] responses with no indication that those NOI responses were well considered or that there is follow up or action items that will flow from that."
Two weeks later, FirstNet addressed some of the concerns, with board member Jeff Johnson detailing the outreach program to potential first-responder users of the network, including plans for additional NOI proceedings and appearances at various public-safety industry events, including the(IWCE) in March.
As for the vendors, Ginn said that they will play an important role, but FirstNet needs to clarify its network before it can have meaningful dialog with manufacturers.
"I think conceptually what we want to do is to architect this system, and we want to test it to make sure that it meets our standards. I think, at that point, we will ask the vendor community to come and help us construct this system," Ginn said.
"So, for all the vendors out there who have been trying to meet with us and contact us, I think the time will come. Once we have the system architected, and we know precisely what we want to build, we're going to ask you to help us build it."