FirstNet: Swenson replaces Ginn at helm, puts focus on strategic program roadmap

Las Vegas bookies probably would have calculated pretty strong odds against Sam Ginn staying on as chairman of the First Network Responders Authority once his term expires in August. And that's exactly why Las Vegas bookies make money.

Sue Swenson FirstNet


Ginn has resigned from the chairmanship but will serve out his term as a FirstNet board member until his term ends in two months. Taking his place at the helm is Sue Swenson, who has been one of Ginn's chief lieutenants at FirstNet. Swenson was named vice chairwoman last December, setting the stage for her ascension to the top role. Penny Pritzker, U.S. secretary of commerce, announced Swenson's appointment as chairwoman.

Swenson has held many executive positions in telecom, including being the former president and CEO of Cellular One, the joint venture between AT&T Wireless and Vodafone AirTouch. Ginn was formerly chairman of Vodafone AirTouch.

Once his FirstNet term is up, Ginn will return to retirement, after a bumpy two-year ride at FirstNet, which nonetheless made significant strides from being a non-entity with no board or employees prior to August 2012 to becoming an organization that might be capable of pulling off its mission of building the LTE-based nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN).

Almost from the beginning, Ginn and the board faced issues regarding perceptions of conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency. Such allegations were put under the microscope in April 2013, when board member Paul Fitzgerald publicly discussed them. Ginn eventually asked the Department of Commerce's Inspector General to look into some of the more serious allegations, but there has been no confirmation that the department has pursued an investigation. In another setback, Bill D'Agostino, the general manager hired to make the NPSBN a reality, left after less than a year in the job.

But there have been notable achievements too, as FirstNet was built from the ground up. Among other things, the authority now has a senior management team, with TJ Kennedy filling in as interim GM; a strategic roadmap to take FirstNet to the next stage of implementation; and more than 50 employees and contractors.

FirstNet also completed spectrum lease agreements with four Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) public-safety pilot projects around the country, with Swenson leading those negotiations. However, negotiations with Harris County, Texas, which has the only operating 700 MHz public-safety LTE network in the country, have dragged on for months and are still not settled.

In a blog entry on the FirstNet web site, Swenson wrote that her top priority as chairwoman will be to implement the authority's strategic program roadmap. "We are working toward several important roadmap milestones--including consultation with the states and territories and the development of a comprehensive network request for proposal (RFP) and an RFP for network equipment and services," she said.  

FirstNet is planning "multiple public notice and comment processes that focus on key foundational issues," Swenson said, adding that more information will be provided on June 3 during the next board meeting.

That meeting will take place in Westminster, Colo., in conjunction with the 2014 Public Safety Broadband Stakeholder Meeting. Swenson will be the stakeholder event's keynote speaker that morning.

In related news, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) is warning that FirstNet's network must be reliable enough to gain the trust of first responders. The council issued a guidance document, which stated that FirstNet's broadband network has to meet public-safety standards and not just be a "commercial 'best effort' network."

The NPSTC, whose guidance is intended to help FirstNet build the network, consists of more than a dozen organizations working to improve public safety communications. They include the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and the National Emergency Number Association.

For more:
- see this Department of Commerce release
- see this Swenson blog post
- see this PSCR conference agenda (PDF)
- see this FierceMobileGovernment article
- see this PSTC document

Related articles:
FirstNet putting together two key network RFPs, solicits possible board members
FirstNet names CTO, agrees to fund key activities
FirstNet leases space for technical HQ in Colorado, prepares to hire 100 employees
FirstNet lays out roadmap, extends spectrum talks with Texas county
FirstNet OKs first spectrum-lease pact, short-term staffing strategy

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