Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Battles for Control of the Public Safety Broadband Network Start to Roll

“A bad beginning makes a bad ending”, Euripides, Aeolus

I was reading a recent article, titled, “Sarasota County Commission splits on public-safety radio initiative”, posted on September 13, 2012 by Rachel Brown Hackney. Even though the article may be talking about some type of an LMR or P25 network the article does manage to highlight a critical point that all States should start to be aware of; that is the difficulty in building the Nations Public Safety Broadband Network if you don’t create a business case first...especially when deploying the next generation of technology.

Essentially Chairwoman Christine Robinson and Commissioner Joe Barbetta voted against an RFP to bring on a consultant to start the process of analyzing the States Public Safety Broadband plan. One thing that sticks out is the amount of technical discussion clouding the necessity of the business case. What I mean is that I agree with both parties viewpoint about an RFP, but I think they are mixing apples with oranges.  Confused?

As written in Ms. Hackney’s article she stated that Robert Stuckey, Sarasota County’s General Manager of Public Safety Communications “made a presentation to the [Sarasota County] board about the type of equipment staff and public safety officials felt would work best for the future, Barbetta pointed out that Hillsborough and Pinellas counties had purchased about 2,000 radios of the type proposed”. Why do we need a consultant to help the State with this? Why are we already talking about purchasing? To this point I agree with Chairwoman Robinson and Commissioner Barbetta in that, at this time, we should not be concerned with painting the pants on the ants; nor what pants we purchased. This type of technical detail is what the interoperability board, under the NTIA, has already done for the State and, with a properly executed business case, will be covered when it comes to cost issues.

I also agree with Boards approval for an RFP, but not for what I interpret this scope is to cover. The county does need a consultant. But this consultant needs to come in to analyze its business case, thus their Public Private Partnership (P3), and its requirements to fund the build and to lay out a plan as to how each of the Counties inner agencies will interface, especially as it connects to State parent organizations. The RFP should dictate that the consultant would analyze all the available, and potential, “Public Safety Service” organizations and figure out how they can play together -- both financially and technically. Such a consultant needs to understand the technology -- to a point -- but only so that it can administer the service level agreements that each of the State’s agencies will require when getting the broadband they need. The consultant should also be able to build a business case on how they will pay for such access and the administration of their agreements. Such a consultant essential needs to be fully educated in the execution of a Telecommunications Public Private Partnership and how the county will play a role in the overall State Public Safety Plan.

If the county does decide to move forward with an RFP it must demonstrate a desire for the county to sufficiently model a business case that can generate working capital to maintain the solution for long term…and in coordination with the State. I believe this is where the Board, Chairwoman Robinson and Commissioner Barbetta differ. The Board is actually asking for this, but haven’t the knowledge enough to express it. At the same time Chairman Robinson, and Commissioner Barbetta, are trying not to address technical requirements the county doesn’t need at this time.

What concerns me is that none of the discussion to date, even outside of this county board session, has expressed anything about the “States” requirement for a Public Private Partnerships, or how it plans to “self fund” (mandated in the legislation). If we don’t start discussing this topic, what is going on at this county session, will happen throughout their entire State. And if it starts to happen with this State, then what happens with all the other States? 

You should note, that I have personally been working on just such business cases and they are proving to be very valuable -- not only administering all the needs of all the “Public Safety Service” agencies -- but they also demonstrate a great amount of cost savings. In addition they are inherently designed to generate enough revenue that attracts private equity investors. In this case the State doesn’t even need to use taxpayer money to fund and maintain their solution. The private equity firms are willing to pay for it all as long as they can tap into the long-term, recurring, revenue from the fixed agencies that require the service. With enough knowledge of the technical capabilities of the broadband solution it is easy to create a viable solution for all parties.

With that said, I would highly recommend that the Sarasota County Commission advertise an RFP, but it should address the need for the consultant to analyze their business case (P3) requirements as it applies to the overall State requirement. Or, better yet, they could just advertise their RFP for a consultant, like me, to just come and explain it all. 

In conclusion, why am I writing about this? Because, what is being played out in the Sarasota County Commission sessions will happen all across the country. If we don’t set a standard of governance and execution from the top (FirstNet), then the entire solution will fall into a state of disrepair and ultimately a waste of money…taxpayer money. Most importantly, what is needed is a standard set by FirstNet for executing a solid roadmap of Public Private Partnerships.

Just some guy and a blog…

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