Problems with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)
-[Just a thought, but TLPS would provide a secure private network]
(FierceWireless) The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), finding, among other things, that while the organization has made progress, it still needs to complete a risk assessment, develop standards of conduct and come up with an evaluation plan for early builder projects.
FirstNet, which is tasked with establishing the first nationwide public-safety broadband network--something nobody has done before--responded that it was pleased about the part of the findings where the GAO said FirstNet has made progress in establishing an organizational structure, planning the network and consulting with stakeholders. "We also agree with the GAO's recommendations for improvement in certain areas and will fully implement them," FirstNet said in a statement.
Getting FirstNet on board with this kind of stuff is nothing new. It said something similar last year after the Department of Commerce's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued its report that faulted the group's board members for failing to adhere to financial disclosure rules and not having adequate protections to monitor for conflicts of interest. At that time, FirstNet said it concurred with the IG's recommendations, many of which it had already addressed, and it acknowledged administrative "missteps" that were made in its early days.
This more recent GAO report was conducted at the request of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Thune also called for the Senate hearing in March reviewing FirstNet's progress so far.
There's no question that the nation needs a state-of-the-art communications system for first responders. What the GAO report underscores is 1) this is a monumental task that FirstNet is trying to accomplish and 2) there are so many stakeholders in this project that it boggles the mind to think anyone is ever going to agree and get anything done; and 3) the process is fraught with opposing stakeholders with a history of jurisdictional in-fighting, and they all have to get along.
In an attempt to streamline things, FirstNet has been working with single points of contact (SPOCs) in states and territories. The GAO says that in response to a survey, numerous SPOCs noted either that FirstNet's placement within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) could create "bureaucratic" obstacles or that FirstNet should be more independent from NTIA, which currently oversees FirstNet.
Until the network gets built--and there's already more than one nationwide cellular network in existence from commercial carriers, which were built on a market-by-market basis--there's really no drive for any of these counties or states to place a priority on getting their FirstNet requirements defined and to "start the process toward migrating off an antiquated system and onto a more data-centric system," Kelly said. There's no incentive or drive because the network isn't there.
"It's still just a discussion," he said. "I think the most valuable lesson learned that we experienced was get the network up and running. They'll see performance and the sophistication of the handheld devices," and there's a natural driving force there that would push each locality toward defining their requirements and migrating they systems.
There's a healthy debate whether FirstNet has been allocated enough money to build a network, but that's not what's taking so long. What if the feds just said, "sorry states, here's how we're going to do this and you're going to have to live with it"? I don't think that would fly at all. On the other hand, if you're going to talk to everyone--and I think FirstNet is genuinely trying to be inclusive with the state-by-state consultations and events like its upcoming Industry Day on May 14, there comes a point where you've got to call it good. Presumably, FirstNet is on its way to doing that.
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