FirstNet and the advancement of public safety wireless communications hearing

Published: November 21, 2013

Justice/Public Safety & Homeland Security

Today, the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing focused on FirstNet and advancements that have been made. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 created FirstNet, an “independent authority” within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to oversee construction of a national public safety broadband network. Members of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee were present as well as the following witnesses:
1. Sam Ginn, Chairman, First Responder Network Authority
2. David Turetsky, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
3. Stu Davis, State Chief Information Officer, Assistant Director, Ohio Department of Administrative Services
4. Dennis M. Martinez, Chief Technology Officer, RF Communications Division, Harris Corporation
5. Darryl Ackley, Cabinet Secretary, New Mexico Department of Information Technology
6. Dereck Orr, Program Manager, Public Safety Communications Research, Office of Law Enforcement Standards, National Institute of Standards and Technology
In their opening statements, representatives stated that we must move forward in a bipartisan manner for success with FirstNet, and taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely to ensure first responders have an effective and efficient network. The majority of representatives stated that they were pleased with FirstNet board members’ success so far in working to build strong relationships with states. The hearing also addressed concerns related to FirstNet, including how officials would speak about procurement and ethics-related matters, and protecting public interests while avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse.
While there has been significant progress since the subcommittee’s first oversight meeting in March, stakeholders are still wary of cost, coverage, design, and the timing of the network deployment. Concerns were also raised regarding how transparent FirstNet will be with decision making and developing a business plan.
Sam Ginn, chairman of FirstNet, said that in order for a successful network to be enacted, there needs to be a joint effort between FirstNet and states. The ultimate goal is to come up with a system that covers the entire country, and then make sure state systems are interoperable with it. Moving forward, there will be a continued need for greater transparency between the states, government, and FirstNet to ensure a successful network is in place and can be utilized with other systems, such as NG-911, in the future.
Deltek will be posting a formal recap with additional analysis in the coming days.