FirstNet’s Ginn has quite a mess on his hands
This week, Paul Fitzgerald—one of the four public-safety representatives on the FirstNet board of directors—blew his stack, alleging all sorts of misdeeds perpetrated by fellow board members. Chief among them is a lack of transparency between board members and a general misuse of the Public Safety Advisory Council. Of the latter, Fitzgerald accused fellow board members of treating the PSAC as a “necessary evil.”
None of this surprised me all that much. In our business, you hear things, and we’ve been hearing things for a while now regarding the machinations of the FirstNet board. What did surprise me is that Fitzgerald said it publicly. That’s a new experience. So far, any time we’ve heard a complaint about FirstNet, it has been uttered by people who spoke under the cloak of anonymity.
So what’s Fitzgerald’s deal? Is he a rogue who simply went off the reservation? Is he a shill for others who have an axe to grind with FirstNet? Or is he someone who simply is acting out of personal conviction? It’s difficult to know for sure, especially since he hasn’t responded to our calls for a follow-up interview. But it is very interesting that this time the vitriol is coming from within FirstNet, not from the outside where it usually comes from.
Also, Fitzgerald had to know that he would be castigated, and perhaps ostracized, by his board brethren once he aired the dirty laundry. The fact that Fitzgerald did so anyway tells me that there might be something to these allegations. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
This event reminds me of the missteps that occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area concerning a public-safety LTE pilot project that was underway while public-safety lobbyists were trying to convince Congress to reallocate the D Block to first responders. The project was a fiasco and threatened to undermine the lobbying effort. At the time, we reported on alleged improprieties concerning the vendor-selection and spectrum-leasing processes, as well as—get this—an “astounding lack of communication.”
So now it appears as if we’re experiencing a measure of déjà vu. Here’s what I wrote two years ago about the San Francisco Bay debacle—words that I believe ring true today:
“Rest assured that the federal government will not allow itself to be suckered, and will pull the plug on the nationwide network in a heartbeat, if it believes that the public-safety sector doesn’t have its house in order. It is imperative then that the San Francisco Bay Area mess is cleaned up pronto—and that every other region contemplating such a network buildout learns from their collective experience.”
Don’t think for a second that eyebrows didn’t arch on Capitol Hill when Fitzgerald uttered his diatribe. FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn has pledged that he will get to the bottom of this and fix what needs to be fixed. That’s good, because he needs to get this done—fast. Congress tends to be an impatient and skittish lot, especially when billions of federal dollars are at stake.