Feature Article

January 29, 2013

Tech Vendors Say First Responder Network Authority Board Isn't Reaching Out

 The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent group, was created by Congress last year to build and oversee a $7 billion nationwide interoperable wireless broadband network that will enable police, firefighters, emergency medical service professionals, and other public safety officials to more effectively communicate and do their jobs. 

The Authority falls under the umbrella of the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. FirstNet has been authorized to take “all actions necessary” to build, deploy, and operate the network, in consultation with Federal, state, tribal and local public policy entities.

While it sounds great, private companies that are involved (or hope to be involved) in the new network say the Authority isn’t communicating very well. At a recent meeting in Washington convened by Textron Inc., which wants to manage construction of the network, and Harris Corp., which is hoping to sell gear to the network, speakers stated that the Authority has not made clear how it plans to proceed, Bloomberg is reporting today.

“We are concerned that there has been something of a cone of silence dropped around the process,” said Brian Hendricks, global head of technology policy for telephone-equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks.

Hendricks noted that the Authority’s lack of action is leaving private companies involved with the network with “the sense that we’re sort of fumbling around in the dark for the light switch, and that is a concern.”

The Authority’s 12-person board has countered with statements that it’s on target, but its first priority is to reach out to first responder agencies across the nation.

The board needs to focus on the input of users before “reaching out to the vendor community,” said Jeffrey Johnson, a board member and retired Oregon fire chief. Broader contacts with vendors will begin in the second quarter of this year, according to Johnson.

The problem is that many first responder groups say the Authority hasn’t reached out to them, either. This is according to Tom Stone, a former police chief and executive director of the nonprofit FBI-Law Enforcement Executive Development Association in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

“They’ve not been asked for input,” Stone said at yesterday’s meeting. “There’s a big disconnect.”

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Edited by Ashley Caputo

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