Aug 7, 2017
In 2012, Congress created a new government agency called
FirstNet and tasked it with building a high-speed wireless network
that would allow all first responders in the United States to
communicate with each other daily and in times of emergencies. In
July, FirstNet awarded AT&T with a 25 year contract to do the
actual work. In this episode, hear highlights from a recent hearing
about this new network as we examine the wisdom of contracting such
an important part of our public safety infrastructure to the
Please visit Podchaser.com
to nominate your favorite Congressional Dish episode. Password:
Please support Congressional Dish:
- Click here
to contribute using credit card, debit card, PayPal, or
here to support Congressional Dish for each episode via
- Mail Contributions to: 5753 Hwy 85 North #4576 Crestview, FL
Thank you for supporting truly independent media!
PayPal, GoFundMe, And Patreon Banned A Bunch Of People Associated
With The Alt-Right. Here's Why. by Blake Montgomery, Buzzfeed
News, August 2, 2017.
U.S. Virgin Islands becomes first territory to 'opt-in' to
FirstNet by Donny Jackson, Urgent Communications, August 1,
New Mexico becomes eighth state to 'opt in' to FirstNet by
Donny Jackson, Urgent Communications, August 1, 2017.
FirstNet Becoming a Reality as the Number of States Opting in Grows
to Seven by Adam Stone, GovTech, July 27, 2017.
Executive Spotlight: Interview with Mike Leff, VP for Strategy and
Operations for AT&T Global Public Sector by Andy Reed,
Executive Biz, July 27, 2017.
AT&T in Early Talks With U.S. Officials for Time Warner
Approval by David McLaughlin, Gerry Smith and Scott Moritz,
Bloomberg, July 24, 2017.
FirstNet Gets its Teeth: Implications for Turf, Tech, and Tower
Vendors by Daniel Vitulich, Wireless Week, July 21, 2017.
National Cell Network For First Responders Could Mean Better
Coverage For Vermonters by Amy Kolb Noyes, VPR, July 14,
Some may be kept in the dark on future of public safety telecom
by Dave Gram, VTDigger, July 9, 2017.
States Deserve A Complete Picture In Evaluating FirstNet/AT&T
Coverage Plans by Al Catalano, Keller and Heckman LLP,
Lexology, June 29, 2017.
Leidos and AT&T to Implement Software Defined Networking for
the Defense Information Systems Agency by Leidos, PR Newswire,
June 26, 2017.
State, Territory Plans and Next Step in FirstNet Build-Out Arrive
Ahead of Schedule by Theo Douglas, GovTech, June 19, 2017.
- Report: FirstNet Has Made
Progress Establishing the Network, but Should Address Stakeholder
Concerns and Workforce Planning, U.S. Government Accountability
Office, June 2017.
AT&T and Maxwell Air Force Base Pilot IoT Connected "Smart
Base", AT&T Newsroom, April 4, 2017.
FirstNet Taps Telecom Giant AT&T for First Responder Network
Buildout by News Staff, GovTech, March 30, 2017.
Incident Management Teams and FirstNet: A Perspective on the
Future by Lesia Dickson, GovTech, January 26, 2017.
AT&T Powers NASA's Deep Space Network, AT&T Newsroom,
December 14, 2016.
Wilbur Ross: From 'king of bankruptcy' to face of American
business by Paul Davidson, USA Today, November 30, 2016.
AT&T and NASA Collaborate on Drone Traffic Management
System, AT&T Newsroom, November 10, 2016.
AT&T Agrees to Buy Time Warner for $85.4 Billion by Michael
J. de la Merced, The New York Times, October 22, 2016.
FirstNet Makes Progress, But Cost and Quality Concerns Remain
by Colin Wood, GovTech, May 18, 2016.
AT&T's History of Invention and Breakups, The New York
Times, February 13, 2016.
AT&T Completes Acquisition of DIRECTV, AT&T Newsroom,
July 24, 2015.
FirstNet: Is Opting Out an Option? by Adam Stone, GovTech,
November 17, 2014.
FirstNet Hires Friends, Skirts Competitive Bidding by Greg
Gordon, McClatchy News Service, GovTech, September 26, 2014.
Millions in federal emergency communications funding lost,
diverted by Greg Gordon, McClatchy DC Bureau, July 14,
How AT&T got busted up and pieced back together by Jose
Pagliery, CNN, May 20, 2014.
- Article: FirstNet
Explained by Tod Newcombie, GovTech, April 17, 2014.
FirstNet: Anwsers to Key Questions by David Raths, GovTech,
October 10, 2012.
FirstNet Board Filled by Public Safety Officials, Telecom Execs
by Sarah Rich, GovTech, August 20, 2012.
Communications Giant: The Deal; With Cable Deal, AT&T Makes
Move to Regain Empire by Seth Schiesel, The New York Times,
June 25, 1998.
Communications Bill Signed, And the Battles Begin Anew by
Edmund Andrews, The New York Times, February 9, 1996.
Company News; AT&T Completes Deal To Buy NcCaw Cellular by
Edmund Andrews, The New York Times, September 20, 1994.
AT&T Buying Computer Maker In Stock Deal Worth $7.4 Billion
by Eben Shapiro, The New York Times, May 7, 1991.
U.S. Settles Phone Suit, Drops I.B.M. Case; AT&T to Split Up,
Transforming Industry by Ernest Holsendolph, The New York
Times, January 9, 1982.
No. 1 U.S. Utility Is Investor Favorite by Gene Smith, The New
York Times, November 21, 1974.
Image Source Image Source
Sound Clip Sources
National Public Safety Network; Senate Commerce, Science, and
Transportation Subcommittee on Communications; July 20, 2017.
- Curtis Brown: Virginia Deputy Secretary of Public Safety &
- Dr. Damon Darsey: University of Mississippi Medical Center
- Mark Goldstein: GAO Physical Infrastructure Issues
- Chris Sambar: AT&T FirstNet, Senior Vice President
- Michael Poth: FirstNet CEO
Timestamps & Transcripts
- 1:10 Sen. Roger Wicker (MS): In 2012
Congress created the First Responder Network Authority to lead the
development of a nationwide interoperable public-safety broadband
network in the United States. Following the communication’s
failures that plagued recovery efforts during 9/11 and other
national emergencies, including Hurricane Katrina, there was and
still is a clear need for a reliable communications network to
support the essential work of our public-safety officials. Such a
network would improve coordination among first responders across
multiple jurisdictions and enhance the ability of first responders
to provide lifesaving emergency services quickly.
- 6:37 Sen. Brian Schatz (HI): With
FirstNet, firefighters will be able to download the blueprint of a
burning building before they enter; a police officer arriving at a
scene can run a background check or get pictures of a suspect by
accessing a federal law enforcement database; most importantly,
emergency personnel will not be competing with commercial users for
bandwidth. They will have priority on this network, which will be
built and hardened to public-safety specifications. It will have
rugged eyes and competitive devices and specify public-safety
- 9:40 Curtis Brown: Last week the
governor was proud to announce that Virginia was the first state in
the nation to opt in to FirstNet. Virginia opted in to provide
current AT&T public-safety subscribers with the benefit of
priority services now at no cost to the Commonwealth, as well as
the green light to build out of Virginia’s portion of the national
public-safety broadband network. We believe that decision to opt in
will promote competition within the public-safety communications
marketplace, that will reduce costs and drive innovation across all
carriers. Opting out was _____(00:31-verily) considered, but the
unknown cost and risk associated with deploying and operating a
network was not feasible.
- 19:45 Mark Goldstein: In March 2017
FirstNet awarded a 25-year contract to AT&T to build, operate,
and maintain the network. FirstNet’s oversight of AT&T’s
performance is very important, given the scope of the network and
the duration of the contract. Among GAO’s findings in the report
are the following: first, FirstNet has conducted key efforts to
establish the network, namely releasing the requests for proposal
for the network and awarding the network contract to AT&T. As
the contractor, AT&T will be responsible for the overall
design, development, production, operation, and evolution of the
- 24:35 Chris Sambar: The AT&T team
that I lead is dedicated exclusively to FirstNet. I expect this
group to grow to several-hundred employees by this year’s end as we
hire people across the country with a broad range of skill sets to
help us ramp up our network build out. Overall, AT&T expects to
spend $40 billion over the lifetime of this contract and to build
an operating unique, nationwide, interoperable, IP-based,
high-speed mobile network, encrypted at its core, that will provide
first responders priority, primary users with preemption and all
other users during times of emergency and network congestion. The
First Responder Network will be connected to and leverage off
AT&T’s world-class telecommunications platform, valued at
nearly $180 billion, including a wireless network that reaches
99.6% of the U.S. population. In addition, AT&T will support
first responders 24 by 7 by 365 with a dedicated security-operation
center and help desk. We will provide first responders with a
highly secure application ecosystem as well as a highly competitive
flexible pricing on equipment and services that they select for
their unique needs. One of the most important resources that
AT&T brings to bear on the new First Responder Network is our
best-in-class national disaster-recovery team. We have spent more
than a 130,000 working hours on field exercises and
disaster-recovery deployments over the last two decades. This team
combines network infrastructure, support trailers, recovery
engineering-software applications, and boots on the ground filled
by full-time and volunteer AT&T disaster-response team members.
In order to support the First Responder Network, AT&T will
increase its disaster-recovery fleet by adding 72 new
custom-designed vehicles, just for the FirstNet mission.
- 26:55 Chris Sambar: Possibilities
include near real-time information on traffic conditions, which can
help determine the best route to an emergency for a first
responder; wearable sensors and cameras for police and firefighters
to help give them better situational awareness and camera-equipped
drones and robots that will be able to deliver real-time imagery.
Our FirstNet efforts are expected to create 10,000 U.S. jobs over
the next two years as well as significant public-private
- 30:25 Michael Poth: We’ve created and
delivered state plans on June 19 to 50 states, two territories, and
the District of Columbia three months ahead of schedule, and as
mentioned, the five governors from five great states have already
opted in. None of this could be possible, though, without the
public-private framework that Congress established for the FirstNet
network, by leveraging private-sector resources, infrastructure,
cost savings, public-private partner synergies to deploy, operate,
and maintain the system. FirstNet can be now deployed quickly,
efficiently, and cost effectively.
- 36:10 Sen. Roger Wicker (MS): Dr.
Darsey mentioned that the Mississsippi wireless communications
commission has expressed concerns about FirstNet’s commitment to
hardening the network. You mentioned this in your testimony, the
need for FirstNet infrastructure to be hardened. Can you discuss
why that’s important, and is it more important in the rural areas,
and also, in your experience, how do broadband needs differ between
urban and rural communities with respect to providing emergency
medical services? Dr. Damon Darsey: Sure. Thanks
for the question. I’ll give you an example. Couple years ago we had
a tornado, as you well remember, that took out a hospital in the
northeast part of our state. And the medical center has got a
pretty robust program to respond to that, and we did. The challenge
in that was it took out a couple of commercial towers, but it did
not, after a fairly close hit, take out one of our hardened
public-safety communication towers. What that did for us is we lost
all ability to communicate data out of that area, which was vital
in moving and evacuating the hospital, nursing home, and recovering
the people that were there. That’s the piece that is the concern
that I think we share, all of us here, of how do we make that as
hardened as possible. In terms of rural and urban, from a medical
perspective we can do a lot more, as our team is showing in
Mississippi and other states, if we know about the patient well
before they get close to a hospital. If we can reach out and touch
the stroke patient in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, we can
dramatically increase their chances of survival and meaningful use
after arrival to the hospital. Currently, we’re doing that over
radio, and it’s working really well, but now imagine that in the
rural areas. In urban areas, it’s vital in the medical world, but
here we’re five minutes from multiple hospitals. Now take that as a
45 or 50 minutes away, and what we can do with broadband data in
that time is truly life saving and saving of healthcare dollars.
There’s a nexus here that FirstNet can combine both of those.
- 41:00 Michael Poth: Numerous bids
were in, and they were analyzed with a great level of detail, and
through that process that the Department of Interior assisted us
with as the acquisition experts, AT&T came out as the
prevailing solution and prevailing company provider. Sen.
Bill Nelson (FL): The question is why.
Poth: Well, the value that they’re bringing with
their existing infrastructure, their ability and size, their
financial sustainability to be able to take on something of this
nature, and their lowest-risk approach to implementing this in the
shortest time was truly some of the value propositions that made
them more competitive than some of the other bids that were
- 42:13 Chris Sambar: The initial RFP
that FirstNet released contemplated building out a public-safety
broadband network using just band class 14, and we responded
accordingly. But through discussions, we decided we would extend it
beyond just the band class 14, which is the spectrum that was
allocated for first responders in 2012. We said we would open up
all of the spectrum bands within AT&T. So, essentially, what
that means is the day that a state opts in, they have immediate
access to AT&T’s entire network, all spectrum bands, and they
will see the benefits of FirstNet on all spectrum bands, all
wireless towers, from AT&T that are LTE enabled. So I think
that’s a tremendous benefit that FirstNet was not expecting when
they contemplated the original RFP. But when we brought that, I
think they were very pleased with that, and that helped us.
Sen. Bill Nelson (FL): So, you’re going to have a
level playing field for all device manufacturers.
Sambar: Absolutely, sir.
- 43:15 Sen. Bill Nelson (FL): There
must have been some folks in Virginia that suggested that you opt
out of the network and chart your own path. Tell me the benefits to
Virginia’s first responders of the governor’s decision to opt in.
Curtis Brown: Thank you, Senator. The decision to
opt in was really based on looking at the benefits that comes with
opt in, the immediate priority and preemption services that would
come for those who are subscribers to the network. And a major
thing, Senator, is to the fact that it comes at no cost to the
Commonwealth. We have been disproportionately impacted by
sequestration and other aspects—the governor had to close a
300-million-dollar budget deficit—and so looking at the cost it
would take to build a network and sustain it, it just was not
- 47:45 Chris Sambar: We initially
envisioned, when we launched the State Plan portal on June 19, that
we would have roughly 50 user IDs and passwords per state. That
would be 50 individuals who would access the portal. We immediately
got feedback that states wanted more, and we are offering more. So,
we have a state right now, as a matter of fact, 227 login and user
IDs have been issued. So, it shouldn’t be an issue for a state if
they have additional people. The only requirements we have,
Senator, is that, as Mr. Poth said, that it’s an official email
address, somebody in the state who works for the state—
Unknown Senator: Right. Sambar:
—or an authorized consultant. Either of those is fine. We just
don’t want, like, a @gmail, @hotmail, someone that we don’t know
who they are. Unknown Senator: Right, okay.
- 53:14 Michael Poth: How do the states
hold us accountable? As FirstNet shifts gears from developing a
proposal and making an award, for the next 25 years we are going to
be in a position to work with the states, continuous and public
safety in all of those states, to make sure that all of their
expectations, both from the State Plans and in the future, are
being met and translated. If appropriate, we back into contractual
actionable items. Or if AT&T, for example, is not meeting the
requirements or the expectations, FirstNet will, on behalf of
public safety and those states, enforce the terms of the
- 54:55 Michael Poth: Canada is using
the same exact spectrum that we’ll be utilizing with AT&T, so
there’s a lot of synergies. We’ve spent a great deal of time
coordinating and comparing notes with Canada and the public-safety
entities in that country as to what we’re doing so that there is
the inoperability between the countries will also be realized.
- 1:08:50 Chris Sambar: So we have had
a number of states as well as federal agencies we’ve been in
communication with, and some of the states have been very direct
that they’re interested us putting our LTE equipment on state-,
city-, municipal-owned assets. That would give them the benefit of
revenue from AT&T through a lease agreement. It would also give
us a benefit of being able to build out the network faster.
- 1:24:20 Michael Poth: AT&T’s
already been doing this, as mentioned, for years with their fleet
of 700 deployables. Now with the 72 dedicated, which are much
smaller units which is going to give us the ability to maybe get
those into areas that are a little tougher to get to, we’re very
excited about that. That is an absolute addition to the solution
that we’re going to be able to bring to public safety quickly.
- 1:25:50 Chris Sambar: So, we will be
building out band class 14 over the coming five years across a
significant portion of our network. In the meantime, before band
class 14 is built out, we will be using our commercial network.
There are requirements in the contract with FirstNet over how
quickly we need to build out band class 14, and we have to hit
those milestones in order to receive the payments due to us from
FirstNet. If we don’t hit those milestones, we don’t receive the
payments, so we will be aggressively building out band class 14 for
first responders. Again, in the meantime, they will have access to
all of AT&T’s bands. So to say it simply, if you are a first
responder, Senator, you will not know whether you’re on band class
14 or any other AT&T band, but you will have the exact same
experience regardless of what band you are on on AT&T network.
Sen. Roger Wicker (MS): Your position isn’t the
service that’s provided, and the consumer and the public-safety
user, to them it will be immaterial where it’s coming from.
Sambar: The way I like to say— Exactly. The way I
say it is this: public safety has been told for many years that the
magic of FirstNet happens on band class 14, and we’ve changed that.
That’s not correct anymore. The magic happens on the AT&T
network period, and it doesn’t matter where you are, you’re going
to have the exact same experience. So we’ve extended it far beyond
the band class 14 to our entire network. Wicker:
Will you build out the class 14 spectrum only where it is
economically viable, or will you build it out where there is
written requirement in the arrangement between you and FirstNet?
Sambar: We are building band class 14 where we
need the capacity in our network. So in order to provide priority
and preemptive services to first responders and have enough
capacity for everyone that’s on the network, including the first
responders, there are places where we will need additional
capacity; that’s where we’re building— Wicker: And
you will determine that need. Sambar: AT&T,
based on capacity triggers—obviously, we’ve been doing this for a
long time—based on capacity triggers that we see in the network, we
build out band class 14 as additional capacity on individual—and
this is done on a tower-by-tower basis.
- 1:28:00 Sen. Roger Wicker (MS): Are
you able to say what approximate percentage of the lower 48
landmass will be covered by band class 14 build out? Chris
Sambar: Unfortunately, I am not, Senator. That’s
proprietary between FirstNet and AT&T. I would say, again, it’s
a significant portion, though. Wicker: Can you be
more specific than “significant”? Sambar: That
would be proprietary, Senator. I apologize.
Wicker: And what makes it proprietary?
Sambar: The specific details of the contract
between FirstNet and AT&T. There’s a number of specific details
that are proprietary, Senator. Wicker: That is
proprietary and not available to the public—
Sambar: That’s correct, Senator.
Wicker: —or to the Congress.
Sambar: That’s correct, Senator.
- 1:29:35 Sen. Roger Wicker: Then in
terms of this coverage, which you said really shouldn’t matter what
band it’s coming over— Chris Sambar: Mm-hmm.
Wicker: —are you able to say what percentage of
the lower 48 landmass will be covered in one way or the other?
Sambar: One way or the other?
Wicker: Yes. Apart, of course, from the
deployables. Sambar: So, 99.6% of the U.S.
population will be covered by AT&T’s network.
- 1:39:05 Chris Sambar: The vast
major—as we understand it, based on our research and FirstNet’s
research—the vast majority of firefighters, for example, are not
issued devices for their daily use at work, especially volunteer
firefighters. Greater than 70% of police officers are in the same
situation: they are not provided a device. They’re using their
personal devices. We are going to make available the FirstNet
network to all of those first responders, regardless of whether
you’re a volunteer, whether your agency provides you a device, or
whether you bring your own personal device. They will have access
to the FirstNet network. Once we can verify their credentials and
ensure that we have the right people on the network, they will have
access to all of those features and benefits, and it will come at a
significantly lower price than they’re paying today for their
personal or commercial service. So it’s a tremendous benefit to all
- 1:39:55 Sen. Roger Wicker (MS): On
user fees, will they cost the same for all network users, or will
they vary by regions, public-safety agencies, or states?
Chris Sambar: It’s difficult to answer because
there are different use cases, so it depends. If you’re a large
department and you want unlimited data and you have a number of
applications that you want preinstalled on the device and you have
mobile-device management software, that would be one use case.
There may be a rural department that wants to connect body cameras
and dashboard video camera from a police department. It will depend
on the use case. Wicker: So it’s use case and not
regions and states. Sambar: That’s correct, sir.
Wicker: That would be the variable.
Sambar: That’s correct.
Public Safety Communications; House Committee Subcommittee on
Telecommunications and the Internet, September 29, 2005.
- David Boyd: Homeland Security Dept SAFECOM Program
- Timothy Roemer: Member of the 9/11 Commission, Director of the
Center for National Policy
- Art Botterell: Emergency Information Consultant
Timestamps & Transcripts
- 30:44 David Boyd: Interoperability’s
not a new issue. It was a problem in Washington, D.C. when the Air
Florida flight crashed into the Potomac in 1982, in New York City
when the Twin Towers were first attacked in 1993, in 1995 when the
Murrah Building was destroyed in Oklahoma City, and in 1999 at
Columbine. Too many public-safety personnel cannot communicate by
radio, because their equipment is still incompatible, or the
frequencies they are assigned to are different and they haven’t got
bridging technologies available. They operate on 10 different
frequency bands, and they run communication systems that are often
proprietary and too often 30 or more years old. Over 90% of the
nation’s public-safety wireless infrastructure is financed, owned,
operated, and maintained by the more than 60,000 individual local
jurisdictions—police, fire, and emergency services—that serve the
- 1:43:00 Timothy Roemer: Let me give
you a couple examples of what the 9/11 Commission found as to some
of these problems. We found all kinds of compelling instances of
bravery and courage, people going into burning buildings and
rescuing people. They might have rescued more. We might have saved
more of the fire department chiefs, officers, police officers,
emergency personnel, if they would have had public-radio spectrum
to better communicate. At 9:59 in the morning on 9/11 four years
ago, a general evacuation order was given to firefighters in the
North Tower. The South Tower had collapsed. A place that held up to
25,000 people had been diminished to cement, steel, and ash. The
people, then, in the North Tower, many of the chiefs in the lobby,
didn’t even know that the other tower had collapsed, or else they
might have been able to get more people out more quickly. We had
comments from people saying such things as, we didn’t know it had
collapsed. Somebody actually said, Mr. Chairman, that people
watching TV had more information than we did in the lobby on 9/11
in the North Tower. People on TV in Florida or California knew more
than our first responders on site in New York City.
- 1:45:10 Timothy Roemer: Mr. Chairman,
then we had a disaster happen in the southern part of our country
in New Orleans where we had other communication problems. In New
Orleans, there’re three neighboring parishes were using different
equipment on different frequencies. They couldn’t communicate. We
had National Guard in Mississippi communicating by human courier,
not by radio frequencies; and we had helicopters up in the air
looking at our own citizens on the roofs of their homes in New
Orleans, screaming and yelling for help, but they couldn’t talk in
the helicopters with the boats in the water to try to find out who
was rescued, who wasn’t, and who needed help.
- 1:55:45 Art Botterell: Third, we can
no longer afford to rely on vendor-driven design of our
emergency-communications infrastructure. Businesses are responsible
for maximizing shareholder value, not for protecting the public
welfare. We need independent sources of information and planning
for our future emergency infrastructure lest we continue to get
updated versions of the same old thing.
Music Presented in This Episode
Design by Only