Thursday, April 24, 2014

FirstNet could learn from a small town School Board – who is actually the servant and who is the master?

I had a very interesting meeting, conference call, with FirstNet Acting GM, and his leadership staff, which included representatives from their financial, cost modeling, and most likely, silent in the room, legal teams. Regardless the meeting started out very well. As I went through presenting my slides on how FirstNet, the States, and the creation of private interest could work in unison to deliver a very cost effective, creative and self-sustaining Public Private Partnership model, which I might add works great for the carriers, visions started popping in my head, which led to more visions and so on. The first vision was what the hell are we doing here. The second vision was who was leading whom in the discussion; and then the vision of how FirstNet could actually learn from a small local school board.

A school board is made up of a number of elected officials, called “Trustees”, of whom I am one. I stress the word “Trust in Trustee”. We are tasked with watching over the financial impacts on the school district and vote on large expenditures. The school board has only one employee…the Superintendent -- essentially a CEO. The Superintendent is in charge of conveying the strategy and getting approval from the board so that he can administer the district. The board is made up of citizens who are sworn in as “Public Servants”. We actually take an Oath to defend the Constitution and follow the law. The board reports to the taxpaying community and maintains a watchful eye over the welfare of the children and their education. We weren’t some magical group of people empowered to make decisions without adhering to the rule of opens meetings act, the local community, and the election process…in short, I am not the all-powerful Oz here, I’m just a citizen who was entrusted by other citizens to keep track of expenditures of the school district. If I do a poor job then I get voted out.

FirstNet is very much the same, only the context of how it executes has been skewed with visions of being a commercial carrier, or believing it needs to be one. FirstNet was entrusted, took an Oath just like a school board, with the task to monitor and track the advancement of the Public Safety Broadband Network and its implementation…. that’s all.  Nowhere in the legislation does it say anything about FirstNet becoming a carrier, nor does it empower it to do so. The FirstNet Board is a Board Corporate that reports to NTIA and the Department of Commerce, who ultimately reports to the President. As an elected official the President, is suppose to, report to the American Citizen. Respectfully, FirstNet is also charged with watching after the spectrum allocated to Public Safety…. once again there is that word…”Public”.

I ask this question, if FirstNet reports to the NTIA; the NTIA reports to the DOC, who in turn reports to the President; and the President reports to the American Citizen; doesn’t the grouping of American Citizens insinuate “Public”? Also if FirstNet is mandated to watch over the spectrum allocated to “Public” Safety, who also happens to report to the Public Citizens of a State, is that the definition of “Public Servants”? That word “Public” comes up a lot, so does “Master”.

So when the organization head of the FirstNet management team starts asking, “how much revenue can the commercial carriers bring in” while partnering with FirstNet, have we lost focus on what the network is all about? Once again these “Public Servants” report to the citizen taxpayers as well as Public Safety. It may be just me, but should the citizen, or “Public”, question the actions of its servant? Not the other way around? When did the “Public Servant” become the Master? I’m not trying to stir up trouble, or make anybody look bad, I’m just highlighting what I witnessed. By stating the obvious maybe FirstNet can get back on track and eliminate the perception of partnering with carriers; trying to be a carrier; and collecting revenue like a “National Carrier”. But, when you hear the words firsthand, it stirs up some defensive posturing. 

It’s quite simple; The FirstNet Board is just like a School Board, and the GM is just like the School District’s Superintendent, they all report to the taxpayer. Otherwise, why call them “Public Servants”? Why not call them AT&T, Verizon or some other carrier name?

If a very reasonable case is being made, by an individual citizen (one of many Masters), to the management staff of FirstNet (Public Servants), a case vetted through numerous States, of which, has no impacts on the taxpayers (which is usually a good thing) and is widely supported, then I ask, who is actually the servant and who is the master? By making my case I must have struck a chord, because all of sudden I was challenged, “how is the State going to get its spectrum”? I’m not quite sure how to take that comment. Was that a threat? Who was the threat meant for? My personal view, I think the comment was a challenge to the State’s. Go ahead and try to “Opt Out”; put your plan together; “how will you get your spectrum?” You need to come through me. I have warned about such behavior in earlier articles.

The idea of trying to listen to carriers for advice does not mean you should actually become a carrier. The spectrum, and thus the network, is for Public Safety, not a “National Carrier”. I understand the stress, but things need to change if FirstNet, at the Federal level, will succeed. The State can execute without FirstNet, so, I ask again, who is really the Servant and who is the Master? Why would a single federal entity try to cut the State out of using its own spectrum so that it can do what the legislative act asks – “Jobs Creation and Middle Class Tax Relief Act” – I stress “Jobs Creation” and “Tax Relief”, which my P3 model addresses wholeheartedly?  Being a “National Carrier” will not align with the Act, in fact, it could be construed as being unlawful, or even criminal. Is that what the investigation is uncovering? As one State Official once told me, “someone is going to jail over this”; maybe he was onto something. 

“I am building a National Carrier here!” (GM)

If the D-Block spectrum was originally allocated to Public Safety, and maybe I missed something in some meeting somewhere, but when did FirstNet become the owners of the spectrum? I thought Public Safety is the owner and the majority of their work happens locally within a State. If that were the case then why wouldn’t the State gets its spectrum? Will FirstNet try to fight to keep the State from getting its spectrum? Will they try to manipulate to “get something out of the deal”? What happens to the purpose of building a “Public Safety” network? Will FirstNet decide to stand against Public Safety in order to force its plan of becoming a National Carrier and generating “revenue”? Who actually wins in the situation – State, FirstNet, carriers, or the taxpayer? Once again, I thought FirstNet was to watch over the spectrum as it deploys the Nations Public Safety Broadband Network. I don’t think all the hard work done by the Public Safety community, in getting their spectrum, had envisioned FirstNet being a “National Carrier” -- as the GM stated. If I recall this was brought up in the very first meeting of FirstNet, thus the point was stressed, “just to have the carriers consult”. (Sam Ginn)

I will give TJ the benefit of the doubt and leave the political fights between the pro-politicians – if there is such a thing. My guess is that he said it out of frustration and was only exhibiting emotions related to all the work they have completed to justify their carrier plan -- only to be told that all that work may have been done in vain. When someone stands strong on a vision, for so long, they feel obligated to defend it at all cost, unfortunately it may have been a fight they were never supposed to engage in. No one said being a “Public Servant” was a glamorous job. 





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Moto

Words to Live By: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs)