On August 8, 2016, I’ll become an employee of the First Responder Network Authority – FirstNet. FirstNet is the federal government agency charged by Congress in 2012 to build a 4th Generation LTE wireless network nationwide with priority for those who respond to public safety incidents and disasters. I’ve sometimes called this mission “smart phones and tablet computers for cops and firefighters”.
“The federal government” conjures visions of vast unfeeling bureaucracy, giant buildings with endless cubicles, and waste of taxpayer money. Perhaps some federal agencies are like that. But also consider this: federal government employees are National Park Rangers, NASA scientists and astronauts, people who efficiently deliver the mail, serve in our Coast Guard and other armed services, and fight the wild fires which ravage National Forests. And some agencies are very innovative, like the United States Digital Service and the lean startup 18F.
FirstNet is such an agency.
It is relatively new. It has a solid focused mission to support the safety of 324 million Americans through wireless technology. It has taken an innovative approach to finding a private company partner to build the network which might be worth $100 billion over 25 years.
FirstNet has had its struggles. I’ve been one of its most public critics. I’ve blogged “Is FirstNet Stalled” in February, 2015, at which time three years had passed with little progress and about FirstNet’s Scandal and Resurrection in 2014. I’ve suggested FirstNet might become the next healthcare.gov when it appeared to be mired in federal bureaucracy outside its control.
But I’ve also been supportive of the times FirstNet has taken bold, innovative action, such as the appointment of Sue Swenson as Chair of the Board and T J Kennedy as President. I’ve made numerous suggestions of how FirstNet might significantly improve response to public safety incidents such using voice technologies like Amazon Echo, improving transportation (“The Internet of Speeding, Parking Things”) and improving the safety of first responders (“The Internet of First Responder Things”).
FirstNet has now charted and is following the road to a complete success. With at least three bidders to build our network, and support from major telecommunications companies with extensive existing networks, FirstNet might be a reality in 2018.
In fact, the most significant issue FirstNet probably faces is getting agencies to adopt and use the new network. Many large agencies are cautiously supportive today, but rightly want FirstNet and its vendor partner to “show us the beef” – a solid working network with coverage equal to or better than existing networks, and a cost equal to or less than existing networks, with an array of new features and functionality (see my blog here for what that “array” might be).
And that is why I’m coming on board: to help FirstNet build a set of services and functions which public safety agencies need, and to convince those agencies to come on board.
I’ve seen the mess created when thousands of agencies each build their own voice radio networks, and then have to make them interoperate. With FirstNet, we can build a nationwide data and cellular network from the beginning, and with every agency on board, have solid interoperability. We can have firefighters from multiple agencies rushing to the scene of a major urban fire or huge wildfire, and see their actions coordinated with situational awareness and mapping. We can have dozens of law enforcement agencies – local, state, federal, tribal – cooperate on investigations or raids on drug smugglers and terrorists, all using common apps. We will find paramedics interacting with hospitals and private physicians and healthcare records to deliver top-quality urgent care in remote locations.
That is IF FirstNet offers innovative features and apps, and IF agencies sign up to use it.
We’ve seen multiple waves of innovation which have vastly changed our personal and public lives:
- The telephone
- The Personal Computer
- The Internet
- The World Wide Web
- Smart phones and apps
- Tablet computers
I want to help add “FirstNet” to that list.
FirstNet has received a lot of Presidential and Congressional support. More importantly, it was born from the support of thousands of public safety agencies through their successful effort to see wireless spectrum (the “D” Block) allocated for first responder use. Hundreds of thousands of stakeholders in 55 states and territories have attended a lot of meetings and heard a lot of discussion about the potential of a nationwide public safety wireless broadband network.
For the sake of the nation, for the sake of first responders and all responders, FirstNet damned well better deliver on its promises.
I’m joining FirstNet to help it do just that.