The fur is flying at FirstNet

editor's corner

According to the agenda for the First Responder Network Authority's meeting this past week, board member Paul Fitzgerald was supposed to deliver an update on the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), which was created to provide input to FirstNet from the public-safety community.

Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Story County, Iowa, did that and a whole lot more.

Charging that the public-safety community has largely been shut out of planning for the 700 MHz LTE-based National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), Fitzgerald said, "In my view, the PSAC is treated more like a necessary evil than a source of valuable public safety advice."

He made that remark in defense of his earlier motion for a resolution declaring that the development plan for the (NPSBN) has been flawed "in the face of the possible conflict of interest or the appearance thereof."

Fitzgerald alleged numerous improprieties in his motion and follow-up remarks.

Bill D'Agostino Jr., introduced as FirstNet's first general manager at the meeting, had to wonder what he's gotten himself into. After the meeting, he issued a statement outlining some of FirstNet's upcoming outreach efforts.

"The law establishing FirstNet calls for a formal state consultancy process, and we'll formally kick off that outreach in May. Working in partnership with The National Governors Association, we will host regional meetings where we bring together policymakers representing a cross-section of state, local and tribal governments," D'Agostino said.

He noted there will also be a number of vendor forums hosted by the Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) Program.

Yet Fitzgerald suggests those get-togethers might be the functional equivalent of smoke and mirrors, distracting participants from what he contends is the fact that the NPSBN's design has already been rubber-stamped by the telecom industry representatives on FirstNet's board.

Several of Fitzgerald's fellow board members, including the three other public-safety representatives, publicly disagreed with him, though some appeared conciliatory and indicated the issues he listed are worth examining.

"The tonality of this motion makes it appear public safety has reservations of this board, but I don't think that's a broadly held view by public safety," said Jeff Johnson, CEO of the Western Fire Chiefs Association, who oversees FirstNet's outreach efforts.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs and Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association later issued a joint statement supporting the FirstNet board. The groups said they are following developments in the situation. "It is important that this enterprise be carried out with integrity and in accordance with existing federal rules and regulations," they added.

However, the 22,000-member National Sheriffs' Association lauded Fitzgerald and urged that a complete review of FirstNet be undertaken before further progress is made.

Pandora's box is now open. I hope FirstNet will be able to complete its task with full backing from the nation's first responders and the folks they serve and protect. But for that to happen, even the smallest hint of a conflict of interest, potential for financial gain, cronyism, backroom deal-making or subversive tactics on the part of any FirstNet board member should be thoroughly investigated and resolved.--Tammy

P.S. What do you think? Does FirstNet need an independent review committee looking over its shoulder? Vote in the poll on our home page.