Thursday, August 30, 2012

Harris County and Charlotte Public Safety Broadband Networks: will they complicate the nationwide buildout for First Responders?

For those that are looking for a discussion point: its in the title.

I recently read the following article by Wayne Hanson, that was reposted from the Government Technology website and was dated August 30, 2012 titled: “Feds Rethink Public Safety Network While Locals Stew”.  Its an interesting article and highlights a point I’ve been trying to make…that is…with a properly executed Public Private Partnership a State may not require any Federal or State tax dollars to design, build, operate or maintain their Public Safety Broadband Networks.

In the article Wayne refers to Harris County and Charlotte and their initiative to build their PSBN solutions; yet at the same time highlights the complications they face in funding their projects. From a different perspective it may be seen that forcing the early build-out may only continue to complicate the task of FirstNet, and a State, and its potential requirement to solicit and obtain private funding to help deploy their solutions. We have to remember, we need the entire national solution to be “self-funded”. How is Harris County going to get an ROI to make “self-funding” happen? From what I can see there is not enough handsets for a subscriber based solution, and they aren’t communicating with any other “revenue” producing State entities, which leads me to believe that complications will follow.

Harris County and Charlotte should be commended for taking the initiative, but not necessarily for the reasons one would typically suspect. In fact, they will make interesting case studies. Case studies that highlight the complexities, above and beyond the technical aspects, and more focused on the procedural hegemonies. By nudging an effort into a bigger statewide solution will only complicate the process. What I don’t understand though is if the Federal Government, i.e. NTIA, needs a test bed for interoperability -- I thought that’s what Denver was setup to do.  If that is indeed the case then why is it necessary to allow Harris County or Charlotte to precede when others cannot? Are we in a moment that Napoleon Bonaparte would say, “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake?”  I would hope not. That wouldn’t help anybody out.

Is it actually advantageous to be the first to build? After all, we are talking about a nationwide build out, which means it isn’t going to be operational anytime soon. By the time this gets setup for operations Harris County, and Charlotte, would most likely have to upgrade to Release 10 of LTE, which will not be an easy software upgrade. I may be wrong, but such an upgrade will most likely involve a MIMO upgrade, which could mean new hardware (need to refer to the experts on that front). Plus, the Release 9 and 10 solutions will have different software and service functionalities. Such enhancements may never be available to test until those solutions are upgraded, which could mean that all of their testing, up to that point in time, would be useless. Plus I may be wrong again, and have been in the past, but I believe the interoperability lab in Denver will also be testing these same scenarios, which means procedural duplications as well.

In any case, and it may be just me, but wouldn’t it be better for the State to take the lead? Maybe the State CIOs? By doing so will allow the Governor to interface with all State and Federal agencies, and entities, that claim Public Safety responsibilities, to which they can highlight a combined requirements solutions, procedural protocols and financial interfaces that will benefit all. What happens if Harris County gets finished with its 14 sites and then finds out from the Governor that it did not include all the requirements for Utilities, NIS (immigration) or Transportation? Would they have to redesign, rebuild or start all over again? What if the business case created by the Governor demonstrates that the entire network could be paid-for without tax dollars; yet Harris County just spent Millions doing their own thing? How will the tax dollars be recouped? What about the spectrum -- will they have to get off the spectrum? What if their vendor solution was not the solution chosen for the statewide deployment? Maybe it’s a waste of time? I don’t know.

One thing is certain though, if you are waiting for the Federal Government to provide grants to build an entire nationwide LTE network -- yet alone a statewide deployment -- you will be waiting a long time. Who’s to say what happens in the next election cycle. If there is a change in the administration, what items in the Federal budget do you think the “stop spending” will apply to, especially if there is a way too truly “self-fund” itself through Public Private Partnerships? Then again I’m just some guy and a blog.

What can be done? For starters the States can start to investigate P3 scenarios that will include the requirements for all their internal agencies and entities. Align private investment to utilize the ROI produced from the internal entities then start a high-level design that includes all the requirements…not just a few. As I have illustrated in some earlier postings, it will take at least a year for the private investment community to perform their due diligence, so we need to get going now. I am confident there is a solution in Public Private Partnerships that will fill the “self-funding” requirement and will require no tax dollars…. that’s if, of course, FirstNet and the State want to build it that way.

Just some guy and a blog…

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