FirstNet's future depends on state and local support, says Harris exec

For the First Responders Network Authority (FirstNet) to achieve success in building the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), it must meet the mission-critical needs of public safety, remain financially viable and ensure state and local buy-in for the network, according to Dennis Martinez, CTO of Harris' RF communications division, who helped craft the NPSBN's interoperability requirements.

Dennis Martinez

Dennis Martinez

Slightly more than a year ago, the FCC named Martinez to a 15-member technical advisory board tasked with developing recommended minimum technical requirements to ensure a national level of interoperability for the NPSBN. Those were submitted May 22, 2012, to the FCC, which in turn delivered them to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is charged with overseeing FirstNet.

Those recommendations now must be folded into all RFPs as FirstNet moves forward. There are 46 firm requirements in the interoperability framework.

Yet considerable planning remains for the NPSBN, with numerous questions hanging over the role commercial networks may play in its creation. "We just saw this in Boston, and we see it every time there is a major event. Commercial networks do not have the ability to service the commercial needs of users, let alone the priority needs of public safety and first responders," Martinez told FierceBroadbandWireless.

In addition, there are concerns regarding FirstNet's financial future. The initial funding mechanism, which is contingent upon the success of the 600 MHz spectrum auctions, is new and different. "And there's the sustainable components based on the leasing of excess capacity, user fees and leasing of FirstNet assets," said Martinez. FirstNet supporters are also keeping their fingers crossed, hoping for future investments at the state and local levels as well.

What has turned into a much larger issue than some may have expected is the buy in of local and state public-safety entities. "If you get their buy in, they'll become your business partners. If you don't, it'll present a challenge downstream," said Martinez.

That support has already been challenged by the public airing of allegations by FirstNet board member Paul Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Story County, Iowa, who charged the board with largely shutting out the public-safety community when it comes to planning the 700 MHz LTE-based NPSBN. Last week, the FirstNet board set up a special review committee to investigate alleged improprieties and questionable backroom dealings that Fitzgerald cited.

Martinez said there were bound to be tensions between the public-safety and telecom worlds regarding the NPSBN.

Public safety organizations have traditionally played very active roles in architecting their communications networks and engaging their supply chains, and interoperability with other first responders is generally low on the list of priorities. But, the FirstNet business model is completely different because a federal authority is overseeing the NPSBN's creation and is focused on interoperability as the foundation for the network.

"Expectations will need to be readjusted, and I think that's part of what is happening," said Martinez.

"The positive takeaway is public safety is getting engaged, and they care a lot about this," he said.

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