The readers always write: FirstNet will not meet expectations
Most public-safety and government officials have expressed support for the FirstNet board of directors and the need for a nationwide broadband network for first responders. However, an overwhelming percentage of readers responding to a recent Urgent Communications poll believe that the much-anticipated network will fall short of the lofty goals set by FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn.
Overall, 139 readers responded to the poll question that asked, “Do you believe the nationwide broadband network for first responders will meet all of the goals set by FirstNet Chairman Sam Ginn for coverage, reliability, performance and user costs?” Certainly the results are unscientific, but 81% of respondents answered “No”—a number that should be an eye-opener for FirstNet.
Of the rest, 8% responded that the project could meet expectations, but only if Congress allocates more funding than the $7 billion currently earmarked for the first-responder network. Only 6% of the respondents said they believe that the FirstNet board has the resources it needs—with the help of public-private partnerships—to build and maintain a broadband network that will meet the coverage and performance thresholds outlined by Ginn and other FirstNet board members.
The disbelievers were almost evenly split on their reasoning—41% said politics would be the ultimate problem, while 40% said the economics would not work. However, respondents who took the time to submit comments seemed to emphasize the economic issues facing the FirstNet board.
“Every telecommunications co-worker that I’ve spoken with knows the FirstNet concept is a totally flawed,” one commenter wrote. “It has nothing to do what will and won’t work. It has everything to do with trying to duplicate a massive infrastructure that already exists nationwide, without revenue producing income in the hundreds [of] billions to support it initially and moving forward.”
“The economics simply [do] not work,” added another commenter. Another called FirstNet an “unfunded mandate,” while yet another cited “insufficient funding.”
Another commenter was more blunt.
“Unless someone gives them a national treasury or two, it ain’t gonna be a stroll through the park,” wrote one commenter.
Many comments also revealed a considerable distrust of commercial technologies like LTE.
“Recent public events have shined a spotlight on the inadequacies of the private carrier systems and we are setting ourselves (public safety) for a major disappointment if we don’t get our message across,” one commenter stated.
Another commenter wrote, “You need about 20 years yet before something like this is ready for public safety. This has disaster written all over it. … My LTE drops my signal all of the time. How is this any different?”
In addition to the doubts concerning economics and technology, many commenters expressed concern that—like many commercial carriers—FirstNet will concentrate its efforts on populous urban areas and ignore sparsely populated rural areas of the country.
“[FirstNet] will end up being a fiasco and you will end up with the haves and have nots,” one commenter wrote. “The rural areas that don’t have the funding will never benefit from it. Only the cities and large jurisdictions will be able to afford it. So nothing will change from where we are now.”
Another commenter echoed this sentiment, while also citing additional hurdles that the FirstNet board could face.
“They will not be able to put this network across the U.S. landscape. The for-profit cell companies haven’t been able to do that yet. Not only do you have to get the land, erect a tower and construct a building, but you also have to provide power. You [not only] will get the ‘not in my backyard’ [argument] but also ‘not on our public lands without a full environmental impact statement.’”
Although most commenters clearly believe that FirstNet will be unable to meet its stated goals, a couple opined that the board is so early in the process that it is impossible today to predict the outcome.
“I think any of the limited choices provided here could happen. With a cooperative spirit and realistic expectations—and a small dash of safe compromise—it can definitely be a success,” one commenter wrote. “Public safety will have to think more collectively than individually with this system. It can be a huge success, but some of the princes will need to think beyond just their kingdom (jurisdiction). DOD joint warfighting was not an easy pill to swallow at the Pentagon, but it works, and the result shows that by working together we achieve better success.”
“Many people are too quick to judge the effort, which is just getting off the ground. The rationale for having people who have built nationwide networks before take on the task is very clear, and from what I can see, public safety has been involved every step of the way,” the other commenter added.
Only time will tell which of these projections will pan out. However, the poll responses and comments only emphasize a feeling that I’ve had for a long time: FirstNet board members are facing a monumental task fraught with myriad challenges and potential pitfalls. If they can execute on their lofty vision and make this first-responder network a reality, they will be deserving of the greatest plaudits, and the rest of the world quickly will try to duplicate the model.