FirstNet seeking LTE network director, as some states dawdle on planning

While the First Responder Network Authority searches for someone to head up LTE network planning and design for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), a new report has revealed that nearly a quarter of U.S. states still have not engaged in active stakeholder outreach related to the FirstNet effort.

FirstNet just initiated the hunt for a director of radio access network (RAN), who will work from FirstNet's Boulder, Colo., office and report to the CTO. The RAN director will manage a group of engineers responsible for the planning and design of the FirstNet LTE network and supporting ecosystems.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees FirstNet, posted the position on June 17 and will accept applications through July 8. The salary range for the position will be $124,995 to $157,100 per year.

FirstNet has been struggling to hire the staff that it needs, contending that the traditional hiring process cannot accommodate the uniqueness of the roles that must be filled. Frank Freeman, chief administrative officer, said during a board meeting earlier this month that FirstNet had sought direct hiring authority from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to bring on 21 technical positions and 56 outreach and compensation positions, but he indicated the request would likely not be granted.

FirstNet board member and Acting General Manager TJ Kennedy said the technical positions are for experts with LTE experience who are "hard to find and hard to hire into the federal government."

Meanwhile, the states, which will be the ultimate customers of the NPSBN that FirstNet is charged with crafting, are progressing at very different rates with regard to building the foundations they must have in place to work with the authority.

A report released by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) revealed that more than half of the states are collecting data for use in their planning efforts. NASCIO also found in excess of 70 percent of states appear to have a governance model in place and are starting to actively engage in planning and outreach with key stakeholders.

However, a handful "are still working on initial governance and staffing concerns," NASCIO said. Further, 23 percent of states are not yet engaged in active stakeholder outreach. That could cause problems down the line, not just for those states but for the overall sustainability of the FirstNet project.

"FirstNet is a major intergovernmental undertaking, with the need for states to do budgeting forecasts, infrastructure and technology planning, and education and outreach to potential users. How states approach this problem will have a significant bearing on whether we end up with a successful, sustainable model for this major national endeavor," said NASCIO Broadband Committee co-chair and state chief information officer for Wisconsin, David Cagigal.

The FirstNet blog recently profiled Steve Noel, Oregon's single point of contact (SPOC) to FirstNet. Noel said public-safety stakeholders in Oregon are particularly excited about getting priority on the FirstNet 700 MHz spectrum.  

"During most events, like Hurricane Sandy, the first thing that goes down is the cell phone network. Often it's not because the back-end infrastructure has failed. The failure happens because the systems are overloaded with people in the event-center using their cells to call for help or to talk to friends and family," Noel said. "Having dedicated spectrum will be a huge benefit in these and other situations."

For more:
- see this job posting
- see this NASCIO release and report (PDF)
- see this FierceMobileGovernment article
- see this FirstNet blog post

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