Thursday, March 2, 2017

AT&T and FirstNet masterfully done? Dine? How to get your spectrum for FREE!

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on opposing views of the FirstNet outcome. The change in administration, which I predicted two years ago, has had a huge impact on what’s going. The fact remains that FirstNet, although its efforts may be honest in nature, still chooses the wrong approach. I'm afraid that FirstNet, thus Public Safety, is being led by those that do not grasp fully the market potential and the right course of action to achieve the required results. What do you expect from an organization that truly doesn't understand the market and its potential impact on delivery?

If FirstNet awards the contract to AT&T, then all FirstNet will have accomplished is giving a huge swath of valuable spectrum to the same carriers who bid on the exact same spectrum some 10 years ago. Essentially, FirstNet will give the spectrum away for free. FirstNet, will have broken the circle of Trust with Public Safety and most importantly lose confidence from the new administration.

Ten years ago, AT&T was one of the bidders who offered Billions of dollars to acquire the same spectrum. Public Safety, through some hard lobbying of its own, forced the bid to be pulled because a commercial relationship would not suffice in insuring that Public Safety had priority and had a hardened solution that was reliable during a state of emergency. In short, the carrier business model was not to the benefit of Public Safety. Public Safety understood that they needed their own network – a network that would insure Public Safety’s needs. It seems that notion has been lost – and may have been purposefully misled – by the same carrier and its biased partners within FirstNet -- who bid on the spectrum 10-years ago.

Following the pull-back of the spectrum bids, AT&T initiated a process of paying lobbyist to influence the new FirstNet organization. In short, AT&T would manage to acquire the same spectrum -- for FREE! Even if that was not the intended action, it was an obvious outcome, and would have been recognized some time ago of its impact, but those signs were purposefully ignored -- or was it nefariously played? One thing it did do, was put Public Safety on the backburner in regards to its needed hardening requirements, priority access, and ultimately the required rural coverage. What FirstNet negotiated instead was a promise from AT&T to Public Safety that it could deliver a network that will ride on the same infrastructure that the carrier has been using all along for commercial purposes – the same infrastructure that was so unreliable during disasters and only covered a geographic footprint that the local First Responders already had coverage in.

The fact remains that everything that has taken place since the inception of FirstNet, was done in vain. FirstNet spent millions of dollars testing and insuring that the LTE broadband technology was viable -- the same LTE broadband platform has been viable for many years and is the workhorse of all the carrier solutions around the world. Why wouldn't it be viable? It also spent millions on testing mobility, PTT, and other applications, of which all have a life span of about a year or two. I would be able to buy two versions of the iPhone during a similar timeframe. We don’t even have a first network planned and they are already testing handsets and video applications – solutions we already know will work. So technically, FirstNet has achieved nothing to date.

FirstNet also spent millions of dollars on outreach that only accomplished an enormous amount of distrust and cynicism throughout the Public Safety and the State Government communities. Are we any better off than what was discussed 5-years ago? Has anything changed? Nothing has changed at all except for the leadership of FirstNet and the Presidential Administration. In the end, FirstNet (the Federal Government), through its own actions, may have sealed its own fate since that very first presentation to the FirstNet Board when they pushed the carrier relationship. This is what happens when the Federal Government tries to build a complex broadband network when it has no business doing so.

If it were me, I would scrap the award to AT&T, then focus on the States. The States are in a much better position to build their own solution, which by the way could enable the carriers, like AT&T, to partner at the State level. There is nothing stopping a partnership with a carrier, in fact it should be encouraged – just not a partnership where the carrier is in control. The notion of creating your own public private partnership to build a statewide network should be one that enables many carriers to ride the infrastructure – more open competition and more revenue for the State and its P3 consortium of investors.  All carriers would then be on a level playing field. Then again, AT&T may have known this from the start – I know I would have.

The spectrum should remain under the control of the P3 consortium, which is partly owned by the State, thus can inject revenue into other programs for the State i.e. Health Care, Schools and other Public Safety Programs. You should note that it is written in the law that a State can use revenue from its network, if done through a Pubic Private Partnership.

Under section (g) you will see -- right in front of you – the following, “(1) IN GENERAL — A State that chooses to build its own radio access network (in other words OPT-OUT) shall not provide commercial service to consumers or offer wholesale leasing capacity of the network within the State EXCEPT DIRECTLY THROUGH PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS (key word here is EXCEPT) for construction, maintenance, operation, and improvement of the network within the State.”

Scrap the concept of this one large federal organization controlling and building the solution from the top down. Use the Public Private Partnership framework as it was intended and let the States take control. FirstNet can still set the standards and a framework of execution so that each State can connect/interoperate with each other -- using the same technical requirements.

Also, don’t forget that the law states that a State that decides to Opt-Out can apply for its portion of the $6.5 Billion. If a State decides to Opt-In, then it can’t obtain its portion of the $6.5 Billion and will in fact be charged for its portion of the statewide buildout to the rural areas – which will be all rural areas – plus may face a funding requirement to consolidate funding sources for other States that can’t afford it.   

"States that successfully meet the criteria to build their own network within FirstNet will be eligible for a proportionate share of the $6.5 billion.The total cost to build out the network is estimated by most experts to be in excess of $30 billion over 10 years."  (Congressional Research Service, June 2016)

In short, if you Opt-Out you get funding and don’t have to pay for your own statewide deployment; if you Opt-In you don’t get access to the $6.5 Billion and you must pay to build your own statewide rural solution – if you want it – plus may have to pay for someone else’s network. What kind of decision is that?

But who am I other than….

Just some guy and a blog…..

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