Wednesday, May 20, 2015

FirstNet Public Safety Broadband Network - FirstNet sees kink in its own armor?

First, sorry for the delay in writing, but my wife is in Stage 4 of Breast Cancer, so most of my time has been for her and the 5 kids.

I’ve been keeping track of what’s been going on with FirstNet and I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed. FirstNet seems to be stuck in this “do it myself” frame of mind and is fixated on putting together a large-scale RFP to install their own nationwide rollout. Yet, at the same time we’re starting to see kinks in their armor for a business plan. It’s not like I haven’t been warning about this for the last three years. I stated right from the beginning that FirstNet could plan for the physical build-out all they want, without a clear business plan it will be moot. I do see some bits and pieces within the analysis that FirstNet has formulated that have merit, but it is far from being any sort of a viable solution for such a complex requirement. Just as an example; without a full understanding of the technology, its capabilities, its viability as a service offering, its deployment necessities and the associated profit engine, then I'm afraid we are a long ways from getting this going.

So here we are sitting on $7 Billion in cash and it’s burning a whole in their pockets to spend it before the Administration change. The reality is that FirstNet does not own the spectrum, Public Safety does, and Public Safety is driven at the State level not the Federal Level, thus one of the primary reasons FirstNet must concentrate on working with the States to accomplish what they need. It’s a heroic cause and gesture, but as I stated long ago there would be a few “Blue leaning” States that will go along with the Federal Government solution, but the fact is that the majority of the States will “Opt Out” if not purely for the fact that they can make money off the use of the spectrum. By my calculations FirstNet needs more than 90% “Opt In” for their business model to even come close to being successful.  I’m just saying – that doesn’t seem to be realistic. So do we keep going down this path of one large RFP, or even a carrier partnership, when we know we won’t get the numbers to help fully build this out, or most importantly, sustain us for the long run?

Eventually I do see FirstNet doing an RFP, but not for what they’re trying to do today. My version of the RFP of the future will be to fill-in the voids that the State’s have issues building out to; or the areas, such as National Parks or Federally owned land that require coverage. It’s unrealistic to believe that the Federal Government can build out a complete physical deployment and then maintain such a network for the long term, especially without the support of the States. Even with all the good intentions it’s just not feasible. You can’t become a telecom company over night and you definitely can’t build a Nationwide Broadband solution from the top down. FirstNet should be spending its time working on a template and standards that the States can follow that will allow them to build their own solution using fixed standards and designs. On top of that, FirstNet should be analyzing their role in the investment portion of the PSBN framework, where as, ownership is allocated at the State level. It would be much easier for a cookie cutter approach to the States then adjust for their individual for individual case scenarios. On our current course we can’t get there from here.

I think part of the problem is FirstNet’s belief that they own the spectrum, so understandably they’re taking a headstrong approach to getting the task done. We have to remember that the Public Safety leadership did not create FirstNet; it was created by the Department of Commerce – a Federal level administration – that was assigned by President Obama. Nowhere in the law does it State that the spectrum was allocated to the Department of Commerce, rather it was allocated to Public Safety. What the law states is that the Department of Commerce was chosen to lead in its implementation, to which the DOC assigned it to the NTIA. You should note that the NTIA has been trying to clean its hands of anything associated with FirstNet since the beginning – I wonder why? The DOC is also the entity that appoints the leadership, and still does, for the FirstNet Board.  Either way the fact remains that the President put the wrong people in charge of this Public Safety network. If anything FirstNet should be reporting to a board made up of Governors.

A better course of events would have been for the President to hand the leadership reigns over the Governor’s Association and utilize the Department of Commerce as his liaison entity with the mandate to create the preliminary business model. Had this been the case then the President would have laid the development and deployment of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network squarely on the laps of the State Governors. I could almost guarantee you that things would have moved much faster; in fact we probably would have already seen some of the build-out underway. Instead what we will have is a mixed bag of timelines of State deployments all trying to be coordinated with a Federal organization tied down in its own bureaucracy who is, at the same time, trying to sell their own solution.

The issue is still the lack of a template to build against and a business model for all the States to follow. As I’ve preached about since the beginning, this is exactly what FirstNet has been devoid in providing, a solid framework for the States to work against and an allocation of required standards to meet. Instead what we have is a programmatic approach coming from FirstNet with a clear disregard for creating the business plan that benefits the States. Our gain as a Nation has been wasted time and money trying to complete arduous tasks when the more simplistic version would have sufficed. FirstNet has now reached the understanding of its own milestone that demonstrates a critical failure in their business approach; you can’t sustain, nor build out in its entirety, the solution that is needed for the Public Safety Broadband Network, without a better business model than what they have today.

What will happen from here on out? Looking into my crystal ball I see a few courses.

1.     The most predominate course will be a continuation of the waste and expenditures moving forward until the elections happen then the threat of losing the $7 Billion altogether.
2.     Or, we start to see the easier course of just putting the deployment template, standardization of technology and the overall business model approach into effect. 
3.     Or, we see this entire house of cards come crashing down in an abysmal failure.

In the end the entire problem lays in President Obama’s lap. When you have a country that was built upon the success of private citizens, and the creation of an economic powerhouse based on capitalism, why would we put such a multifarious solution in the hands of a rookie who has never played in the position? Let alone a highly complex technology based broadband solution twice the size of the Nations two largest carriers? The real secret to this whole mess lies within the business model, not its physical deployment.

No need in beating a dead horse, but I’ve provided the solution that FirstNet, and the States, could use to make all this a success – that being a Public Private Partnership model that I’ve developed over a number of years.

But who am I other than….

Just some guy and a blog…..

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