“We have to learn from our LMR [land mobile radio] experience and not repeat it,” added Werner. “If I go to another locality in another jurisdiction, the device will work just like I am moving from one Wi-Fi hot spot to another.”
Werner, who is on the DHS’ SAFECOM executive committee, believes FirstNet also will have to partner closely with commercial wireless vendors. “They have the expertise that public safety doesn’t have, and we don’t want to build something completely new,” he said. “We have to leverage the value of what is already built and use each other’s equipment, including federal assets.” One possibility for the FirstNet RFP is regional partnerships, he said. “We could see Maryland, D.C., and Virginia form a consortium to build it out in their region.”
Could States Opt Out?
Another potential complication for the FirstNet board is that state governments will have the opportunity to opt out of the network and build their own statewide networks.
Those opt-out decisions will likely not occur until the RFP is developed, which could occur as early as next year. If state officials were to deem that the design is deficient or doesn’t give adequate control to the local level, they might choose to opt out.
“During a disaster involving bridges here in Seattle, we wouldn’t want control of resources at a national operations center,” Schrier said. “But if the architecture does operationally allow for that type of local control, it’s hard to see why states would opt out.”
Most states wouldn’t have enough money to go their own way, said McGinnis, a program adviser for the National Association of State EMS Officials. “Some states are being encouraged to consider opting out by vendor entities because usually something like this is done with a single RFP for infrastructure so their idea is divide and conquer.”
In fact, some vendors are telling state and local governments that running their own public safety network could provide additional revenue by providing services to commercial entities or utilities. “I think they are providing bogus advice,” Schrier said. “The legislation states that any income derived from the network must go back into its operation or build-out.”
In addition, as Schrier pointed out, even though $135 million is being made available for state planning grants, there’s nothing in the law that says state or local governments have to use the network. “The Seattle Police Department could decide it’s too expensive and stick with its existing Sprint network instead,” he said. State and local emergency responders must have a good reason to use it. One good reason is the dedicated spectrum, but it still requires a compelling price. “The best thing would be to use their existing assets and they will be more likely to participate,” Schrier said. “They are more likely to be involved if they have skin in the game.”
Will LTE Pilots be Allowed to Continue?
Charlotte was one of seven regions that won Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grants to work on long-term evolution (LTE) broadband public safety projects. “We were excited to be getting it in place before the Democratic National Convention here this summer,” Robinson said. But now that isn’t going to happen.