A nationwide broadband network that would allow police officers and other first responders to coordinate efforts using compatible devices continues to be delayed due to technical issues and controversy linked to the project.
The First Responder Network Authority, also called FirstNet, was recommended by the 9/11 Commission and is 15 years in the making. Its continued delay is not only frustrating but potentially puts our nation’s first responders in danger.
Delays are two-fold, stemming from accusations that the technology is becoming obsolete and overpriced and bidding and network wars.
Jim Pasco, senior adviser to the president of the nation’s largest police union, National Fraternal Order of Police, stated, “Under the thumb of ‘minders,’ mostly second-tier politicos in the Commerce Department, the FirstNet Board drifted away from being an advocate and planner for vital public safety communications in times of national emergency.”
“Instead, the bureaucrats set FirstNet on a course which would ensure extraordinary profits for the industry member who won the contract, without regard for the technology needs of those who protect and defend our citizens in crisis situations.”
FirstNet was created by Congress in 2012 through the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which allotted the project $7 billion. In a 2015 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the network is so complex that funding its construction and maintenance would cost between $12 and $47 billion in its first 10 years.
“To become self-funding, FirstNet is authorized to generate revenue through user fees and commercial partnerships,” concluded the GAO.
Whoever wins the bid, then, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service in January 2017, must be able to provide coverage to 95 percent of the country within six months of garnering the business, making it essential for one of the nation’s four largest carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or Verizon – to participate.
This has led to a lawsuit being filed against the federal government by Rivada Mercury, one of the several bidders, after it discovered it had been dropped from bidding consideration, leaving AT&T as the most likely winner.
Finally, battles over markets between multiple carriers are further delaying the network.
In August 2013, OpenSecrets reported that Motorola Solutions, who maintains a large share of the first respondent market, was lobbying both state officials and lawmakers to preserve its influence.
In a memo from the Fraternal Order of Police to its national board members and state lodge presidents in September 2013, it was stated: “They are acting to protect their market share and proprietorship on public safety devices and technology at the expense of working together with the public safety community and FirstNet.”
While delays continue, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross supports the “concept” of FirstNet.
During his confirmation hearing in early January, Ross said, “But the idea of giving the first responders all of the tools that you can imagine that could be useful has to be the right direction to go. So, I’m certainly supportive of that.”
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