Wednesday, March 30, 2016

FirstNet: Hardened Public Safety Officials wine about Opt-Out States? Who's team are you on?

In the last week alone I have read a whole lot of articles on the State’s ability to Opt-Out, which leads me to my most recent diatribe. The most interesting article was entitled “State Officials Complain that Rivada Urging States to Opt Out”, which was confusing in one aspect. I couldn’t discern as to how “Rivada” was encouraging them to “Opt-Out” -- even though that is the right answer – the States have been looking at “Opt-Out” ever since the law first was enacted. I seem to remember lots of discussion around the term “Opt-Out”, which is stated in section 6203 of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012. If anyone is to blame for the States talking about a real “Opt-Out” it would be me. After all, I alone, was the one spewing all these “fact-less” articles and troublesome “face-to-face” meetings with the States, their Staff, SWICs and their committees, local governing boards, investors and contractors. I take pride in my lone voice of dissent. But, I defer any blame to anyone else if that blame would cause me any pain.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, it has become evident that someone has moved the FirstNet cheese. There seems to be those hardened individuals that are trying to form dissenting ranks within the Public Safety Community, of which has drank the cool-aid that a federal solution is the only solution for FirstNet. In fact, that statement is true. FirstNet was created by a federal entity, is run under a federal entity, and is controlled by a federal board enacting federal acquisition rules. If it talks like a duck and quakes like a duck…well…  As with most political controversies these days it comes down to the 10th Amendment and ideology.

Does FirstNet, as a federal organization, have any say in what a State does? Do you, the individual, believe that the “top-down” centralized federal solution is the right way of doing business for all Americans? Or do you believe that the solution is best delivered from the bottom-up under the control of the States and oversight provided by the feds? I’m not one for pushing politics – I just work in the broadband industry – but the decision, to me, lays within the confines of just getting something done, done right, on-time, and within budget, all while besting the revenue capabilities of the solution we are working on, which in this case leads me to believe that we have way too much bullshit and not enough framework to hold it.

So lets gets this straight, FirstNet comes in to build the solution for the State, what could possibly go wrong with that? Well, lets look at just the tip of the ice-berg. First off, lets say you go with the FirstNet “Opt-In” scenario, what exactly does that roadshow come with?

Your first obstacle to face as a Governor will be a long-wait time – unless you are the first State on the list -- if it takes 24 months to complete a statewide (clean) build-out of broadband LTE (RAN), microwave and fiber backhaul connectivity, and the applications introduction stage, and you are State number 25 on the list of States, this means you would have to wait 50 years if they are doing one State at a time. Don’t know about you, but I don’t think I will be around that long, unless they come up with some revolutionized way to extend my life I will probably be dead. But, let’s be more realistic and say we deploy the solution for 5 States simultaneously (which is really complex to do even for a mature broadband deployment company like AT&T) that would mean you would get a start date 10-years from now. God be with those that are 49 and 50 on the list. What if we are visited by aliens within the next 10 years – and I don’t mean the guys from the South – and the aliens share some wildly popular mind control function that allows us to communicate without any infrastructure? Do we still have to deploy LTE in 10 or 50 years? Will it be interoperable?

Let’s say its 20 years from now, and you are the last State or Territory to get your network started as an “Opt-In”; your State will still have to partake in the solution anyway because it will be all State local contractors who will be called upon to build it anyway, why? Because they are “local”. Even the largest Program Manager or EPC in the world will tell you they actually don’t build anything, especially the carriers themselves, it’s the locals that do all the work. But, hey you don’t have to worry about any local contractors doing business in your State do you?

If anyone has ever dealt with a large-scale telecom build-out, they will tell you that the most time consuming and asinine part of the entire deployment of broadband is the environmental and local ordinances controlled by local boards. If you have ever sat in front of a local zoning board and tried to sway a panel of 7-14 board members on why they need a 70” monopole tower, hardened like Fort Knox, in the middle of a residential zone, you will understand that there are just some things in life you would be better suited for, like getting your teeth pulled, or having your skin peeled with a rusty razor blade while soaking your skin with alcohol. State local environmental and site acquisition teams will have to be contracted, thus refer to the previous paragraph and the statement “you don’t have to worry about any local contractors doing business in your State do you?”

Unless FirstNet, or the Program Manager, has some hold on doing local environmental, site acquisition, and zoning roadshow, this is a State thing that has to be dealt with. Take it from experience, you could write a book based on the views of local representatives and their belief that the cosmic rays interfering with their community’s libido is coming from the radiation off that new tower.  Then again, maybe you do want FirstNet to handle it! In the end the delays and the personalities is not a well suited thing, especially, for a Federal entity like FirstNet, or their representing Program Manager.

Which brings up the term “Program Manager”. The Program Manager will be the team that is awarded the FirstNet “Opt-In” solution (from their recent RFP). Instead of the State controlling its own course, it will now be faced with a third party “Program Manager”; who was handpicked and awarded the FirstNet contract with no say from the State? And you have to rely upon this Program Manager to be your face to the State Voters? I don’t know about you, but that would seem to be a little bit of a risk for anyone’s political career. What happens if that Program Manager happens to be AT&T, Verizon, or any carrier, and the service you get from them today is minimal, if not down right crappy? How are you going to convince your voters that the carrier solution is best for them and that you know what you are doing?

In the end, you can count on the fact that you WILL get all the Federal Agency “support” from the Department of Commerce, and the NTIA, even if you didn’t ask for it. Anyone heard of “Obamacare”, or “the Affordable Care Act”? That went well didn’t it? Government has its place, like constructing interstate highways.  Well no, the highway infrastructure has been decaying for years and crumbling in disrepair. What about water infrastructure? Well no again, anybody heard about Michigan and its water problems? Okay, how about our toilet water? Try again, how many people do you know that are fed up with cleaning a 1.5 gallon toilet? For all these issues, who was left holding the bag and spent their own cash to fund the cleanups? The State and their taxpaying voters that’s who.

The least concerning “top of the iceberg” issue will be that someone will still have to physically build and fund the statewide broadband RAN and fiber infrastructure…. supposedly paid for by FirstNet with a measly $6.75 Billion when we know the overall program will cost over $100 Billion. If you have been following the FCC’s Net Neutrality, Title II Reclassification of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, or the American Broadband Act, over the last few years you would have heard about the cost overruns, delays, and under performance of broadband solution being deployed and utilized by the American people. You should note, that the same Federal Government who relied so heavily on the commercial carriers to build out the Broadband America infrastructure, with federally subsidized taxpayer grants, you will undoubtedly recognize that there is a great big lessons learned hear.  

The lesson is: if you are counting on the Federal Government to come into your State and build you a “local” First Responder Network – you will be drastically disappointed. It’s not without a valiant effort that the Federal Government believes it needs to, it must, build the entire Public Safety Broadband Network for the States. But, at some point we need to stop the “man” from slapping us in the face when we ask for help. Let’s be realistic and refocus on a smaller approach, one that still incorporates the standards and technologies approved by FirstNet, but is designed, built, operated, maintained locally and controlled by the State…like everything else the Federal Government flops to succeed when trying to deploy a solution that touches all of America -- the State gets left holding the bag. Will the Federal mindset ever be understood that it is most effective when dealing with just the leadership of its member States and that the State – because it controls locally – is best suited to be held responsible for the actual work?

In the end though, who in their right mind really believes that the Federal Government will want to fund this themselves? I can guarantee you that the State taxpayers will be called upon even if the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012 mandates a “self-funded” solution. The FirstNet solution is a Federal Acquisition Required program, which means its NOT the “self funded” and “self sustaining” solution that was demanded by Congress and enacted into law. FirstNet is a federally mandated Indefinite Quantities (IDIQ) contract, that’s all. It’s a goal that contradicts everything about the Middles Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012.

So ask yourself…if you really want to put all your money down on the federal solution for the States to “Opt-In”, you may lose a little money. Even with the federal solution, I will still be right, and so would Rivada, the Opt-Out is the only REAL solution for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network…even after the top-down solution fails.

But who am I other than ….

Just some guy and a blog…….   

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