During the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Anaheim, Calif., FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino spoke with UC Editor Donny Jackson during a one-on-one interview about issues associated with efforts to make the nationwide first-responder broadband network a reality. The following is the fourth in a series of articles based on the interview.

In February 2012, Congress enacted legislation that created FirstNet, which is described as an “independent authority within NTIA [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.” While most Beltway sources believe this language was designed to provide flexibility to FirstNet, the verbiage has been rather challenging, as legal advisors try to determine when FirstNet must act as a traditional government agency and when it can approach its mission more like a company would.

D’Agostino addressed some of the challenges associated with FirstNet’s legal uncertainty, the timetable for reviewing and evaluating the many responses received from requests for information (RFIs), and some long-term possibilities that are being contemplated.

On challenges that FirstNet faces as lawyers try to clarify its legal status:

“I think there’s still things to understand and define a little bit better, but I’m comfortable where we are right now, given the limited amount of time we’ve had to begin to study these things. As we continue to study them, I think and hope that we will find some opportunities that will allow us to do things a little more flexible fashion.

On a flexibility that would be helpful:

“First and foremost, I’d try to find a way to accelerate the hiring and onboarding process—not necessarily to cut out any of the steps, but just find a way to accelerate the ability to attract the pool of people and then the ability to move that pool of people through in a much more expeditious fashion than we do today.

“It seems like you’re looking at 4-6 months before you have somebody on board. I’d rather see that be more like 4-6 weeks.”

On the new staff members that have been hired:

“I’m really happy with the people we’ve been able to bring on board—really happy.”

On the process associated with reviewing the RFIs that have been issued:

“Anytime between September and probably the February timeframe, we’ll be continuing to review RFIs and continuing market-research discussions and really start to think about preparing RFPs that really need to go out in the first part of fiscal year 2014.”

On FirstNet’s participation in 3GPP, which sets the LTE standard:

“I think it’s a little early, and our resources have been pretty limited. So, we haven’t been able to get a lot of traction there yet, but we need to.”

On the potential to leverage 4.9 GHz, which is broadband spectrum allocated to public safety that is not licensed to FirstNet:

“I think there can be a larger plan. We have it on the board to look at, but we haven’t gotten to it yet. I think there’s obviously, maybe, additional monetization of that spectrum at some point in the future—or the ability to use that spectrum for capacity-augmentation strategies—as we really get further down the line.

“There are a lot of things we can look at. But right now, that’s not super high on the radar screen yet.”