With initial regional meetings with representatives of states and territories completed, FirstNet will turn its attention to preparing for consultations with leaders from individual states and territories--a process that could begin late this summer, according to a FirstNet board member,

Conducted over a seven-week period in May and June, the six regional meetings were “really enlightening and really rewarding” for FirstNet, according to FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson, who is heading the organization’s outreach efforts. One of the most significant benefits to the regional meetings was that it gave FirstNet officials a chance to clarify some misperceptions, he said.

Chief among these misperceptions was that FirstNet may not offer service throughout the U.S., but the law mandates such nationwide service — from a single network, Johnson said. Also, while state and local entities do not have a choice whether FirstNet ultimately will offer coverage in their jurisdiction, each entity will get to decide whether it wants to subscribe to the nationwide first-responder network, he said.

“When the light came on that this was going to be ubiquitous from corner to corner in this country, and that they were going to have a choice in whether they select FirstNet as a provider, then they understood our primary business motivation,” Johnson said. “And that is this: We have got to provide a mission-critical, public-safety-grade wireless service that they find valuable and they find worth it. And we’re going to do that.

“As people figured out that the only mandate associated with this network is that it cover the entire nation and that there really is a burden on us to make that a worthwhile choice for them as a service, then it seemed to change the discussion to more collaboration, making sure that what we built met their needs and making sure that we understood what they needed, what they wanted and what they thought would take public safety to the next level. “Those were the most exciting conversations for me, to have their view and vision of what makes us better.”

Beginning next week, FirstNet officials will begin preparations for consultations with representatives of individual states and territories by determining exactly what information FirstNet needs from the states to proceed, Johnson said.

“The regional meetings were intended to establish the record, to create a dialog and to listen to the states,” he said. “That opened the line of communications with FirstNet, and the communications in both directions have been robust.”

“Now, what we need to do is articulate for the states what it looks like when FirstNet shows up, design what information we need to seek and we need to make sure that’s properly aligned with the [NTIA’s State and Local Implementation Grant Program] process.”

Some states have done a great deal of planning and research during the past few years, and those states likely will be the first to meet individually with FirstNet — possibly as early as the latter part of the summer, Johnson said.

State officials have asked FirstNet to prepare documentation that states can share with representatives of first-responder agencies as part of the educational process within their states or territories, Johnson said. But he emphasized that FirstNet will not have all of the wanted answers for some time.

“Part of what they want to know, we don’t know yet,” Johnson said. “Which is, ‘So what does the network look like?’

“I don’t think I can say this enough: We have to listen to the states, harvest the information from the states and pour that into the network design. That will yield a network choice; that network choice will yield a price; and then people can start doing business planning around that. But we have to listen first, and that’s the phase we’re in right now.”