Recent Motorola stories underline yet more challenges to FirstNet
In recent weeks, Politico released two stories on its website alleging that Motorola Solutions officials have been working behind the scenes to undermine FirstNet’s efforts to deploy a nationwide broadband network for first responders.
According to the stories, Motorola Solutions officials have lobbied, supplied information and even written letters for elected state and local officials to use to express opposition with the manner that FirstNet has conducted its business, particularly in the wake of theallegations lodged by FirstNet board member Paul Fitzgerald in April.
None of the letters mention Motorola Solutions, but no one at the company is disputing that they exist. None of the industry officials that I’ve interviewed has seen any of the letters, but no one seemed surprised that such letters were written—many vendors lobby and even supply elected officials with statements when their interests align. For better or worse, many public-safety lobbying initiatives at various levels of government have had the full support—and often were spearheaded by—Motorola Solutions.
This reality is reflected in a statement from the company to Urgent Communications when asked about the Politico stories.
“Motorola Solutions is frequently asked to provide its real-life insight into how communications systems and services can be best provided to those who put their lives on the line every day,” the Motorola statement reads. “The magnitude and nationwide importance of FirstNet makes this public and private information sharing highly important and valuable to achieve FirstNet’s stated goals.
“Our advice and expertise on this matter is just as important to the debate as the views of elected officials and other stakeholders who are engaging with NTIA, the FirstNet board and state governments who will have to decide whether the program offered is right for their state’s public-safety community and taxpayers. To portray this not to be the case is shortsighted.
“Motorola Solutions was the leading private-sector advocate for passage of legislation that allocated the D Block spectrum for first responders. The successful implementation of this law remains the company’s top policy objective. Motorola Solutions’ support of public-safety broadband not only includes work with state and local governments, but with FirstNet and the NTIA, as they design a network that meets the needs of first responders.”
Given that Motorola Solutions worked so hard to get the D Block legislation passed and its stated support for a nationwide broadband network for first responders, some may find it odd that the company would take actions that would seem to be in opposition to FirstNet. I don’t. After all, most Americans believe in the U.S. Constitution and its ideals, but who among us hasn’t been frustrated at times by the way the Constitution is implemented by all three branches of government?
In this case, my bet is that Motorola Solution officials have questioned the role that officials from state and local officials representing public safety—many of whom are clients of Motorola Solutions today—will play in the design and implementation of the nationwide network being overseen by FirstNet. To a large extent, these groups felt ignored by FirstNet for a long time, which is one reason why many applauded Fitzgerald for taking his bold actions (see the overwhelming results of UC’s unscientific poll about Fitzgerald’s allegations).
While it may make philosophical sense for Motorola Solutions to back state and local clients in their efforts to be heard by FirstNet, many industry insiders believe it is just a matter of dollars and cents.
Today, Motorola Solutions dominates the U.S. public-safety LMR world—an arena in which buying decisions are made by state and local officials—garnering an estimated 80% of the market with its breadth and depth of technology, sales and marketing. No one in the industry believes that Motorola Solutions can achieve a similar market share in the public-safety LTE space, especially if buying decisions are coming from the federal level, instead of at the state and local levels that the company has specialized in for so long.
(For the record, no one really knows how procurements for the nationwide network will be executed. During a recent interview with Urgent Communications, FirstNet board member Craig Farrill—the acting CTO of FirstNet—said it is “too early” to decide on procurement procedures.)
When asked about the Politico stories regarding Motorola Solutions, FirstNet board member Jeff Johnson—the man leading FirstNet’s outreach programs—provided a rather matter-of-fact perspective without mentioning any company names.
“When we say that FirstNet was a total change from the way public-safety communications has been done for our entire careers, that’s not an overstatement,” Johnson said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “And when we say that FirstNet will change everything, we need to be cognizant of the fact that some people don’t want everything to change.
“There are a host of companies that their book of business is based on the way it’s done today, and it certainly isn’t a surprise to me that people are doing what they can to defend their bottom line. My goal … is that we keep the focus on the public-safety responders—on the firefighters, cops and paramedics in the street—and that we solve the problems that cost lives on 9/11 and that we maintain our focus on that.
“I don’t fault people for protecting their corporate interests, but that’s not the job of public safety.”
Johnson is right on the mark here, and was wise not to mention Motorola Solutions—purposely or not—because there are numerous others that may feel threatened by FirstNet’s plans. Within the LMR world, there are other system vendors, dealers, consultants and radio shops that are wondering exactly where they fit into this FirstNet-driven world.
And there are those outside the LMR realm that could have problems with FirstNet, most notably commercial carriers. While lobbying on Capitol Hill for the D Block spectrum, some of public safety’s best supporters were commercial-wireless giants Verizon and AT&T, both of which acknowledged the need for a dedicated public-safety network.
But there long have been questions whether that support will remain, if FirstNet starts to erode the customer bases of these carriers. While both carriers should have expected that they might lose police, fire and EMS contracts based on the legislation that established FirstNet, proposals to expand access to other government entities, transit agencies and utility personnel—valuable enterprise customers to carriers—has to be disconcerting to carriers, at some level.
If this scenario plays out, expect a vibrant debate on whether government should be competing with free enterprise—an age-old hot topic—with carriers understandably trying to protect their best interests.
In other words, any attempts by Motorola Solutions to influence the FirstNet process should not be viewed as a major surprise, because other entities likely will try—or already are—using similar tactics. This circumstance is just one of many monumental challenges that FirstNet is facing in its effort to make this nationwide network a reality.