Tuesday, March 4, 2014

FirstNet and Public Safety Broadband - Premature... what did he just say?

I hope everyone is having a great day! If you haven’t noticed I’m an avid reader, especially when it comes to FirstNet. Call it sadomasochistic, or self-gratification, it’s a means to an end for my own self-fulfillment and happiness. I’m also driven piously by focusing solely on the gifts God gave me and can only hope that I can teach and reach others in a way that helps further their own happiness. With that said I read the following article by Donny Jackson of Urgent Communications, entitled “Observers anxious for more tangible signs of FirstNet progress.” J

“Even if all pieces had fallen into place perfectly and swiftly, it takes time to develop a network design and a business plan for a project of this magnitude. Such plans take even longer to develop without a qualified staff, and the hiring process has been much slower than anyone anticipated”—a fact that Ginn has cited repeatedly. (Donny Jackson, Urgent Communications)

Any reason we need a network design right now? It doesn’t take 2-years to formulate a business plan. Heck I helped formulate a business plan just last week and it took us all of about a day. Granted we have to finalize some numbers, but in the end the context of the approach was done in a few hours. Now I’m not saying that FirstNet can do the same, because it needs to consider the thoughts of the PSAC and the States, but they can baseline the vision and then structure the numbers in a few days, or at least a few months…NOT TWO YEARS! I think FirstNet is taking lessons from the MTA in New York City by copying their efforts to build their own telecommunications network.  But, FirstNet may actually be gun-shy now…. typical behavior of a new entrant into the federal political process.  

There is no need for a network design right now; that’s like designing the cart before we know how to pay for the horse. The word “pre-mature” comes to mind, or was it preejaculate? I get confused, either way you get the idea. My recommendation would be for FirstNet to outline a template for approved technical design issues that meets their personal needs. Then let the States align those technical needs with their own to formulate a solid technical standard to build against. All boats rise with the tide. That’s all that needs to be done at this stage of pre-business planning when it comes to design.

In a standardized template, FirstNet would address the approved platforms for use, i.e. LTE, Microwave and data transport solutions, and then augment those requirements with their hardening characteristics. From there FirstNet can script the terms and conditions of the working relationship between FirstNet and the States, as well as start to investigate a projected recurring revenue path to enable self-sustainment. Such a document would outline the essentials for spectrum usage, financial responsibility and organizational governance that the States can utilize in forming its own Public Private Partnership that would inherently consider it's own positive economic, employment and investment strategies.   There is no need to get a cost of an overall network at this point in time, because the build-out will follow the needs of the States and rolled out in a phased approach State-by-State. All we need to do is have a rough order of magnitude for the States, so that they can get a feel of what to expect from the responding Private Equity market to the States design, build, operate and maintain contract. There is a key word in that phrase we need to pay close attention too – “design”. Inherently this demonstrates that the design is done after the business-planning phase that is scripted by the State in its RFP – using SLIGP money. Why do we need FirstNet to give us a design without telling us about a business plan? They can design all they want, if there is no plan to fund it they are just spending taxpayer money and fussing over the sale of spectrum in auctions. Essentially, what the State is doing is illustrating its business plan in its RFP and letting the responses dictate the design.

The structure of a business plan is just the execution strategy of an idea to make money or sell goods. If you have a solid vision of how the network will look, and how it will be delivered, then you can augment that idea with the technical capabilities of the technology to sell it as a service. Quite simple if you ask me! It’s too easy to jump to the end of the process and focus on the sale of service (sorry all you sales people out there, have to wait a little longer before that sale). In reality we need to plant the seed first by starting with a vision, that vision then needs to be laid out in a template so that the State can take hold and execute. 

We have the vision…”100% coverage of the landmass of the United States with LTE”. (Sam Ginn)

How it executes is based on the idea of an overall business model that the States can use when aligning with the needs of “self-sustainment” and "interoperability" as laid out by FirstNet. FirstNet should be focusing on that vision and scripting it into a template that the States can use to execute its governance structure.  We were going down this road when FirstNet was created, i.e. Craig Farrell’s overall vision presentation, but the FirstNet Board was ill prepared for the storm of constructive criticism on the initial approach. You should note that what they were experiencing was the constructive political process at the federal level, unfortunately the Board gave up to easily and was forced back onto its heels with accusations. In the federal government such behavior is common, and should be expected as part of the process, unfortunately nobody in the NTIA, nor the Department of Commerce, put the right person, or people, on the board that is comfortable with that process. Instead what we got were some eager private commercial giants who were inept to the political process, which unfortunately, caused discourse in the entire market, that discourse is being perceived as inability to execute on the part of the current FirstNet Board and now it is confounded with the political playhouse.

We can armchair quarterback on these issues all day long, but in the end, the solution is quite simple, FirstNet just needs to illustrate its vision and structure in organic templates of business formations that align with the overall goal of building a network based on a centralized approach to required standards. Let the States use those templates to execute their own Public Private Partnership in delivering what it needs for Public Safety Broadband. FirstNet just needs to pick that organic approach, the Myers Model™, and set the approved vendor list.  Why confuse the progress with the non-associated political process of the Federal Government?

But, as with any federal mandated objective, there are those within the administration that are hell-bent on the nationalistic approach to FirstNet. We see an unfunded mandate of $7 Billion[1] to pursue the “same old business” by centralizing a federal organization to design – and physically build – FirstNet, thus, the reason we see the incentive auctions to sell “other” spectrum bands to fulfill the commitment of funding FirstNet. Essentially, the feds see this as a money problem, and thus are all about digging into taxpayer investments, i.e. spectrum, and shouting to the masses about taxpayer avoidance, when in reality they know that their whole solution is based on a centralized federal solution which means taxpayer funding is unavoidable -- if they lead the charge. We don't need to attack this problem by throwing money at it, we attack it with a industry concept and an alignment with the business objectives of its customers and investors. 

“I am not alone in seeing this as a problem. The Public Safety Alliance—whose members include APCO International, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Sheriffs’ Association, among others—highlighted the incentive auction as the “best and perhaps only chance” to fund FirstNet. The Alliance called on the FCC to make sure the auction “realizes the full value of the repurposed broadcast spectrum.” (Ajit Pai, Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission)[2]

It’s a good thing we don’t have Doctors, like myself, trying to perform as a counselor; then again the same can be said for Attorneys trying to build a telecommunication network – touché! But, because we have federal funding associated with this, we are getting way more support than we anticipated, thus, FirstNet’s issues with politics and ineffectiveness. By focusing at the State level we can eliminate a lot of the political strife and focus on the build. As I have proclaimed in the past, it’s just an LTE network build. If we KISS (keep it simple stupid) then we can deliver what the State needs, while at the same time, giving FirstNet what it is really trying to achieve… a national network for Public Safety.

But who am I other than…

Just some guy and a blog….

[1] President's Budget: $7B for FirstNet, Full Funding For CPB, Spectrum Fees Return. Also Funds New NTIA Internet Policy Center to Coordinate Policy among Broadband Stakeholders. By: John Eggerton Mar 04 2014 - 01:13pm

[2] Remarks of fcc commissioner ajit pai
at the emerging technology forum of apco international “public safety communications in the digital age. February 27, 2014

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