Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the selection of members for the First Responder Network Authority, or “FirstNet,” a unique public-private board of directors who will oversee the creation of the Public Safety Broadband Network (PSBN). With the recent landfall of Hurricane Isaac, the needs of state, local, and federal first responders are at the forefront of our minds. For both first responders and those being rescued, getting the best public-safety communications network possible in place is of the utmost importance.
Our team at Textron Systems is committed to the success of the PSBN, and has invested in a series of exercises to map out the challenges inherent in its development, create a roadmap for success and answer the most pressing questions facing leaders charged with developing the network. Of the many questions FirstNet will have to tackle, the first and most glaring is how to build a network with the $7 billion Congress has allocated for it, when cost estimates have ranged far higher, between $30 billion and $60 billion. The reality is that $7 billion is clearly not enough money to build wholly dedicated infrastructure for the network. However, the opportunities for public-private partnerships are numerous and would have profound positive effects on the future footprint of the PSBN.
Recently, Textron Systems convened a group of highlevel stakeholders to look at the question of what a successful business model for PSBN might look like — in other words, how does FirstNet use the $7 billion wisely? With more than 30 participants representing a cross-section of the public safety community, industry stakeholders, state, local and tribal regions, we identified a “managed federally, coordinated locally” model that would break down the U.S. map into regions in order to effectively develop the network. The 10 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions, for example, might provide a manageable operating structure. When one compares the FEMA regions against the carrier coverage maps, it becomes clear that there is no nationwide carrier that could successfully operate in all of the regions — but there are carriers with substantial footprints in each region.
The industry exercise identified another signpost to success: the competitive nature of the major commercial carriers keeps them in an aggressive mode of expansion. The results were clear: the FirstNet board must have the flexibility to choose the best mix of providers for a given region — and not be hamstrung by long-term, one-sizefits-all contracts that would stifle innovation, increase costs and decrease resiliency.
As the final recommendation of the federal 9/11 Commission to be implemented, FirstNet owes it to the brave first responders across the U.S. to get it right. Allowing all industry participants to enter into open competition for each region will be the best way to provide that support and help ensure that FirstNet delivers for the American people.