FirstNet's hunt for a replacement GM may enable a fresh start

The surprise announcement that Bill D'Agostino, the First Responders Network Authority's general manager, has resigned, could provide a fresh start for the authority, which is still struggling to satisfy critics in the public-safety community.

Bill D'Adostino Jr.


D'Agostino resigned "for personal and family reasons," according to FirstNet. His hiring was announced almost one year ago, on April 23, 2013.

FirstNet has launched the search for a new GM. The authority, which is charged with building the 700 MHz LTE-based nationwide public-safety broadband network, has leased office space in Reston, Va., for its corporate headquarters, and the new GM, once he or she is chosen, will be located there.

D'Agostino generated praise for his performance as GM. But his past positions with Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) and other mobile operators raised concerns among some in the public-safety community who felt FirstNet was already too closely tied to cellular carriers.

In fact, D'Agostino's introduction as GM occurred at the same meeting where board member Paul Fitzgerald declared that FirstNet was permeated by perceived conflicts of interests and a lack of transparency. An investigation into Fitzgerald's claims is reportedly being conducted by the Commerce Department's Office of the Inspector General, but OIG has a policy of neither confirming nor denying ongoing investigations.

"The perception of FirstNet was all about the influential carrier relationships, which spooked almost everyone in the Public Safety community," wrote blogger Michael Myers, an expert on public-private partnerships, on his Advancing Telecom website.

He suggested that D'Agostino's departure might help change that perception, particularly since FirstNet's acting GM, TJ Kennedy, has an extensive public-safety background. Prior to joining FirstNet, Kennedy was director of public safety and security for Raytheon.

Wireless industry consultant Andrew Seybold had been a FirstNet contractor but was recently let go because, he said, the Department of Commerce and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversee FirstNet, initiated a new process for choosing and compensating contractors.  

Upon hearing of D'Agostino's departure, Seybold cryptically tweeted: "The NTIA Strikes (sic) again!"

Seybold also recently posted a column on his eponymously named website, in which he noted that county and regional communications directors, planners and engineers are increasingly frustrated with the dearth of information from FirstNet regarding the network design it has in mind.

That is because public-safety entities would like to implement "FirstNet-ready" features in any new land mobile radio (LMR) systems they build out, setting the stage for future partnerships with FirstNet. Information being sought includes FirstNet's requirements for backhaul, emergency power, antenna space on towers and space within radio shelters, Seybold said.

"Even if FirstNet decided to make use of a commercial wireless operator (or multiple operators) to build out the FirstNet system, having Public Safety sites FirstNet-ready would be of benefit to FirstNet and those who will be charged with building out the system," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Government Technology recently examined FirstNet's financial situation. Though the FirstNet network was estimated by Congress to cost $7 billion to build out, with funding generated by FCC spectrum auctions, outside pundits have put the likely cost at between $10 billion and $16 billion.

According to Government Technology, FirstNet has borrowed some $2 billion from the U.S. Treasury. And as of September 2013, NTIA had distributed about $116 million in grants under the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP) to 54 states and territories. The grants are meant to help recipients plan for FirstNet in their geographic areas.

FirstNet officials are expected to start state and territory consultations this July regarding network buildout options, Urgent Communications reported. Following those consultations, there are more than 40 steps that each state and territory will need to complete before a plan for their individual portions of FirstNet's network can be considered by their governors.

For more:
- see this FirstNet release
- see this Advancing Telecom article
- see this AndrewSeybold blog entry
- see this Government Technology article
- see this Urgent Communications article

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