FirstNet chairman outlines goals to governors
FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn last week told U.S. governors that the much-anticipated nationwide broadband network for public safety will provide cost savings for state and local first-responder agencies, allow local control during times of emergency, and deliver unprecedented coverage.
During a presentation to the National Governors Association (NGA) in Washington, D.C., Ginn said that most nationwide cellular networks actually cover about 65% to 70% of the United States, from a geographical standpoint. The broadband system that will be deployed by FirstNet will provide much more comprehensive coverage, he said.
"This is the largest telecommunications project in the history of the United States. It's going to cover every square meter in the United States," Ginn said during the NGA meeting, which was webcast. "It's going to be able to penetrate the basements of Manhattan and cover the forest fires in the Sierra Nevada."
To accomplish this blanket coverage of the U.S., FirstNet likely will rely on satellite service to augment its terrestrial LTE deployment — a strategy that fellow FirstNet board member and acting general manager Craig Farrill detailed during a recent interview with Urgent Communications.
"We may do that [provide 100% geographical coverage], to some extent, by satellite, but we'll do that," Ginn said during the NGA meeting.
Ginn reiterated the FirstNet board's concept of building the first-responder broadband network on a nationwide basis but emphasized that the plan is to maintain local control in times of emergencies.
"The first [statement] that we typically get is: 'This is going to be a nationwide network, so we will lose local control, and we won't be able to run our own operations,'" Ginn said. "That's not conceptually what we're talking about here.
"Conceptually, what we're trying to do here is we're trying to put [wireless broadband] across your entire state, and then you can plug in the applications and the capabilities that you want, in the degree that you want them and in the amount that you want them to run your state."
To ensure that FirstNet builds a network that will meet the needs of state and local first-responder agencies, FirstNet will be conducting an outreach program to gather input from potential customers, Ginn said.
"We're going to need to have your help and your cooperation," he said. "We're going to make a number of visits to your state, because it's very important that we understand the facilities that you have and the requirements that you want, so we can take those back and feed them into a national architecture."
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley expressed interest in another version of local control — the ability for states to negotiate deals with partners that could help generate revenue.
"I hope that you'll also give us the capacity to let us work out leases that give us the priority — and give us the ability to pre-empt — but also allow us to raise some dollars at the local level, so we can buy and invest in the 700 MHz network," O'Malley said.
Ginn said that the concept of negotiating deals with potential partners will be a key component of the ongoing plans for the FirstNet network, but he did not commit to a specific methodology.
"The question is: Could the individual states do better in negotiating with an AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, or could we cut a better deal nationwide?" Ginn said. "Whatever way it goes, you want to plow those savings back into the pricing structure."
If partnerships are negotiated by the FirstNet board, then it is especially important that a governor be included on the board, O'Malley said, repeating a notion advanced earlier in the meeting by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead. Currently, the NGA is represented on the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), but there are no governors on the FirstNet board.