The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) board today approved FirstNet’s $213 million budget for fiscal year 2021.
The budget allocates $83.5 million for FirstNet’s operating expenses and maintains an additional $83.5 million in reserves. The budget also includes $46 million for investments to pay for enhancements to the FirstNet network.
The budget approval follows a June decision in which the board approved the use of $218 million for initial core upgrades as the next step in FirstNet’s evolution to 5G (TR Daily, June 17).
FirstNet Chief Executive Officer Edward Parkinson touted the progress the organization has made in the past year on the FirstNet rollout.
“All in all, I think FY2020 has been a tremendously successful year,” he said, adding: “We’ve really been able to turn the corner and really started to see the explosion of interest in FirstNet. And now public safety sees they can rely on it, they can trust it. And when things do go wrong ... we learn from them. We correct them. And we improve.”
The buildout of the network is about 80% complete, he said.
That represents a “significant milestone in the progress of coverage and capacity throughout the nation, with a particular emphasis not only on the major metropolitan areas, but rural communities, too,” Mr. Parkinson said.
FirstNet is available in a total of 700 markets, including areas that cover about 50% of the rural population, he said.
The goals laid out for FirstNet are “well and truly being realized,” with more than 100 applications and more than 150 devices available to use with FirstNet, Mr. Parkinson argued.
"You’re starting to see new vendors and new actors starting to look at the public safety broadband marketplace as an investment opportunity and one that I know will continue to see additional growth,” he said.
Mr. Parkinson also noted AT&T has put 72 land-based deployables, such as satellite cell on light trucks (SatCOLTS), into use, as well as three airborne flying COWs (cell on wheels), and an approximately 55-foot blimp.
AT&T is building FirstNet’s nationwide public safety broadband network under a 25-year contract.
FirstNet’s ability to continue its work engaging with the public safety community has been “really, really impressive” given the recent constraints placed on travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, he argued.
“They’re in an incredibly difficult situation right now,” Mr. Parkinson said. “But public safety understands the importance of having this dedicated resource, which is FirstNet.”
FirstNet’s FY2021 priorities are broken down into five categories, he said, including contract oversight, stakeholder engagement, road map implementation, strategic investment, and organizational health.
“Continuing to engage, continuing to observe, learn, and adapt to public safety’s needs” by talking to public safety interests every day will be key to FirstNet’s success, Mr. Parkinson said.
Information from those conversations will help FirstNet “operationalize” its road map and make new investments as new technology arrives, he argued.
Outgoing FirstNet chair Edward Horowitz stressed that it is “critical to make sure that we’re maintaining rigorous oversight of AT&T. On the other side of the equation, AT&T has lived up to the terms of the contract and continues to live up to the terms of the contract as far as I can see. And they are leaning forward as much as anyone could ask of a provider to make sure the network delivers and operates as it’s supposed to.”
Mr. Horowitz also praised the announcement yesterday by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made yesterday naming Robert Tipton (Tip) Osterhaler to be the next chair of FirstNet, effective Thursday.
“With Tip’s long and successful career of executive leadership in both the public and private sectors, he has the right mix of qualifications and experience needed to the First Net Authority board into the future and ensure our continued success,” Mr. Horowitz said. “Tip is an ideal fit for the organization as we move into the next phase of the program.”
Mr. Horowitz’s two-year term as chair is slated to expire tomorrow, and he plans to remain on the board until his three-year term on the board expires in August 2021.
Of his own tenure, Mr. Horowitz said he was “proud of what we’ve accomplished, both in terms of the maturity of the FirstNet Authority and the continued expansion of the network.”
Mr. Osterhaler called it an “honor and a privilege” to be named FirstNet chair.
“I pledge to maintain focus on what it is we are here to do, and that is to support the men and women who put it on the line every day—police, firefighters, and medical first responders.” —Jeff Williams
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