The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board today approved a $240 million budget for fiscal year 2019, which includes $81 million for program and administrative operations, $81 million for a new reserve fund, and $78 million for a new reinvestment in network enhancements account.
The operational budget is on an obligations basis and includes a 10% reallocation allowance, while the reinvestment budget is also on an obligations basis and will also include any additional sources of funds for FY 2019, which begins Oct. 1. The FY 2019 operations budget projects $76.5 million in expenses.
FirstNet officials stressed during a meeting, which was held via teleconference and Webex, that FirstNet operations will not be impacted if the government shuts downs due to a lapse in congressional appropriations because it does not rely on annual appropriations. FY 2019 will be the first year that FirstNet will be funded by payments from its network partner, AT&T.
FirstNet Chief Financial Officer Kim Farington said that FirstNet staff will conduct an analysis and prepare recommendations to the board for use of the reinvestment funds. FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Mike Poth said the target is for him to present the board a reinvestment plan during FY 2019, saying that it will be developed with input from the public safety community.
“While we have a budget, we’re evolving from a planning organization to an operating organization,” board Chairwoman Sue Swenson said, adding that discussion will continue on the best way to use the authority’s funding.
“This is a living organism and that will continue to evolve over time as we are getting the network deployed,” Finance Committee Chairman Ed Horowitz said of FirstNet’s budget plan.
Mr. Poth’s priorities for FY 2019 are the network, public safety advocacy, innovation, reinvestment, and mission support.
During today’s meeting, the board also received updates on other issues.
FirstNet Chief Technology and Operations Officer Jeff Bratcher said that public safety Band 14 was cleared of incumbents on July 31, and that four states and seven municipalities used $23 million in grant funding to relocate operations to other spectrum. FirstNet had budgeted $40 million for Band 14 relocation grants, and $27 million was awarded, with $4 million of that amount going unspent.
Mr. Bratcher also said that 41 devices are on a National Institute of Standards and Technology list of certified FirstNet devices, and he noted announcements at the APCO 2018 show last week in Las Vegas of other devices. He also said that changes are under consideration to the apps certification process to accelerate the approval of apps.
Technology Committee Chairman Neil Cox noted progress that AT&T is making in executing Task Order 4, which involves the deployment of state and territory radio access networks (RANs).
“Every month that we’re into this Task Order 4, you know, this network continues to distance itself from every other network in the world,” he said. “This is a network that nobody else can match, especially with the amount of security and all that’s been placed on it.”
As has often been the case in comments by FirstNet and AT&T officials, Mr. Cox implicitly criticized Verizon Communications, Inc., which is offering its own public safety service in competition with FirstNet. Verizon’s offering includes a virtual public safety core, priority and preemption, and plans for a suite of public safety apps.
FirstNet board Chairman Jeff Johnson also took a shot at Verizon without mentioning it by name when he discussed conversations he said he had with attendees at last week’s International Association of Fire Chiefs conference in Dallas.
“I think there is a palpable sense of frustration at some of the messaging coming from non-public safety networks,” Mr. Johnson said. “These are commercial carriers that are communicating that they’re offering public safety services, and it is aggravating to my colleagues that [public safety] … designed and built their own network and that this board exists to hold our partner accountable for building that network, and they are very frustrated that other people are messaging that they have something similar.”
He added that his colleagues know other networks are “not the same and they understand that people are just trying to retain their customers, but … they’re asking us to step up our communication in this so that responders understand the distinction.”
In response to Mr. Johnson’s comments, Verizon spokesperson Najuma Thorpe told TR Daily that “Verizon has proudly been supporting first responders with network connectivity, products and solutions for decades. The creation of FirstNet doesn't change our commitment to these customers, nor does it change our plans to continue to create new, innovative products and solutions — just as we did with our Public Safety Private Core, and our always-on priority and preemption services. Customers still have the right to choose their service provider. That hasn't changed with the creation of FirstNet.”
Marsha MacBride, associate administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of Public Safety Communications, provided an update on the selection of candidates to fill five FirstNet board seats. Four of the seats become vacant this month, while one seat has been vacant for some time.
“We did receive 18 applications for the new board slots,” she said. “We have done an initial review and sent a recommendation of a slate of potential candidates to [Commerce] Secretary [Wilbur] Ross for his review, and we are waiting his final decisions and expect them shortly.”
The board today also approved a resolution praising Ms. Swenson’s service as chairwoman. Her second two-year term heading the board expires this month. The law that created FirstNet limits the terms of chairs to two two-year terms. She will continue to chair the Governance and Personnel Committee. Her term on the board expires next August.—Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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