My family once gave me a shirt from the “Life is good” company (whose founder was recently profiled at some NTCA meetings during 2018) noting that “the glass was half full”. That kind of optimism is my mantra…until it isn’t.
I spent much of 2016 and 2017 looking at FirstNet, the public-private, public safety network as a tough nut to crack (but certainly one worth working at) with hopes that the building of this national public safety network would actually be an opportunity for NTCA member companies rather than a direct threat. We teed up the topic, brought the subsequent CEO’s to share thoughts with our members and continued to remind everyone who would listen that there was at least some legislative language talking about working with rural carriers as part of the build out. And in a theme that is not uncommon these days, we strongly discouraged the possible overbuilding of existing, high-cost networks with additional federal dollars.
That eternal bright side dimmed significantly in 2018. Once the contract for the network went to AT&T, once the FirstNet leadership essentially threw up their hands and deferred to AT&T and their existing commercial contracts—it truly felt like either rural America would be left behind or that the large national carrier found it easier to simply call their network FirstNet and game over.
In the spirit of keeping expectations in check, I was delighted to have the acting CEO of FirstNet, Ed Parkinson, swing by our offices today—the 2nd day of the new year—to meet with a few of us as a sign that there will be more communications and hopefully more opportunities to work together in the days ahead. Ed is no stranger to the rural broadband world having spent his first few years at FN doing outreach and traveling to NTCA meetings to share the process with our membership. He understands networks, politics, and public safety. He has a passion for building this public safety tool and is the right person for the job as FN transitions to their investment stage. As he and his team look forward to a 5G and even 6G world, they know that fiber, backhaul and towers will be critical, and they understand that NTCA members serve in those areas where they are likely to be the only providers with those assets. At the same time, the FN team has an obligation to get the best bids in the process and my hope is that rural broadband providers will find a way to keep themselves in the game as investment and deployments proceed.
While today was really a nice opportunity to reconnect, shed some of my cynicism, and look to possible next steps, it was also an exciting time to be thinking—on the heels of some natural disasters in California with wildfires in the gulf and elsewhere with flooding—what are the tools and technologies that NTCA members can help deploy to keep their communities and consumers safe?
More to follow but a good start to the new year for sure!