- Federal public safety broadband network FirstNet will be a "game-changer" that will enhance competition between carriers, officials said at the National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference on Tuesday.
- FirstNet, which provides a dedicated broadband network to emergency services workers and will be run by AT&T, has opt-ins with all US states, territories and the District of Columbia.
- Meanwhile, Verizon is launching its own rival service after not bidding for the FirstNet contract, though panelist James Goldstein, government relations manager for the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said the two systems must be interoperable to truly benefit public safety officials.
The panel discussion grew a little tense at times, as Goldstein clashed with Donald Brittingham, vice president for public safety policy at Verizon, over Goldstein’s accusation that senior figures at Verizon call FirstNet a "monopoly." Goldstein also urged those present to be cautious over choosing FirstNet or Verizon’s alternative. "Verizon is building its own and no one is looking at it," Goldstein said. "[You’re] all going to need to be skeptical of what AT&T is offering you and what FirstNet is offering you, and also what Verizon is offering you because of interoperability."
Brittingham said “having one network is necessarily in the best interest of public safety,” and that “competition is always good,” hence Verizon’s decision to put forward its own network for public safety, something that became necessary after disasters like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and recent extreme weather events. Similarly, states including Colorado explored alternatives before opting in to FirstNet.
Edward Parkinson, director of government affairs at FirstNet, said that while the onus is on AT&T to provide good service, it should encourage "great competition for different types of devices, different types of skill sets. You’re going to see AT&T try to provide the best service they can, and I am confident they will, and other carriers will be looking to challenge them.”
Some new technology associated with FirstNet continues to evolve, too. Enhanced location finding, brought forward to a 2019 rollout, could show which story of a high-rise building someone is on and be helpful in dealing with fires at such buildings in cities.
And Brittingham said the ability for first responders to have priority on data usage is “clearly the game-changer." Not only could that be useful during disasters, but also at events like protests and cultural activities in cities when mobile networks might usually be overwhelmed. It could allow first responders to communicate with ease and use data to share photos of missing children, for example, without using the public network.