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Remarks by FirstNet General Manager Bill D’Agostino

June 11, 2013

Remarks by Bill D’Agostino
First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) General Manager

at the

Public Safety Communications Research Program Conference
Westminster, Colorado
June 4, 2013

(Transcript with edits for clarity)

I’m Bill D’Agostino. I’m the General Manager for FirstNet, one of only two employees and soon to be three employees of FirstNet. You know it’s interesting to think you’ve learned when you listen to Sam. I remember interviewing with Sam and he said, “Bill, it’s a piece of cake. We got all the money, all the plans, got plenty of staff. Don’t worry about it.” [Laughter] Funny to think — you learn.

It’s a pleasure to be here. What a thrill to see all of you out here right now, to hear the kind of change that’s happened in terms of attendance at this conference. You know more importantly for me, this is a huge, huge day. Yesterday I was really pleased to have some quality time with the Board and we had the opportunity to work together on plans and where we were headed, and to look at organizations and budgets. You know, to be quite honest, I am absolutely thrilled, and by the way I can’t stand still so I’m just going to be walking around. I might fall off [the stage] so somebody help me if I do…

I am absolutely thrilled to be here this morning and to know that just a short while ago we approved our organizational structure. We approved the budget through the end of the fiscal year. That’s a huge, huge step for me that allows us to make the kind of transition that we need to make to get FirstNet up and running.

I wanted to ask something. Is there anybody in the room here that was part of the process to get the law passed? If you are, would you stand up for just a minute? Are there any first responders in the room today? Would you stand up? So, I want to say two things. First of all, thank you to every one of you that worked so hard to make this happen. And to the first responders, this is for you!

It’s an incredibly daunting challenge to think about—building out to the standard that we’re going to need to build out a network that’s going to transform the way first responders in this country, and ultimately around the world, will do their jobs. Because I think what we do here will translate to other places.

Themes are here right now — in Oklahoma recently with the tornadoes, with just everyday issues that go on. Let me share a quick personal story. A year ago yesterday, my dad was life flighted to Loma Linda Hospital in California.  His aorta tore in three places. He should have died on the golf course. He always wanted to die on the golf course, but he didn’t. You know there’s a tremendous, tremendous sense of commitment and that comfort level that Dereck talked about. It’s amazing when you get close to something like that, and you see the value that first responders in this country provide every day.

So it’s really special for me to be a part of something like this. But the needs are here and they’re here every day and every minute. So, for those of you who saw the Board meeting, I’m going to hit some of those same slides, but maybe talk a little bit deeper about some of those things I talked about earlier.

I’ll always start with this slide because if there’s one thing I wish, [it is that]  I had jerseys right now. I’d like to hand out jerseys to every one of you right now and I’d want them all to say “FirstNet.” Because what I want people to remember when we’re building this network. We’re not always going to agree. We’re not always going to get everything we want as quickly as we want. But what we have to agree on is the mandate. And the mandate is to deliver this network nationwide. The mandate is to make sure that we build it out in a way that the first responders of this country can use it the way they intended to. I kind of cringe when I hear people say, “You know you don’t have to buy this.” And I get that.

But can I just tell you? You need to buy this service. Because we need that adoption and we need to build this in a way that it will be adopted so that the vision of a nationwide, interoperable, public safety network happens.

It’s going to be very difficult if there are a lot of factions. I should ask if there’s anyone who really doesn’t want to see this happen, but I don’t want to see you escorted out.

Now I talked about this earlier and you know fundamentally for me, this is just sort of the filter by which we should be going about our day-to-day business. And you know [unintelligible] what it says to make sure we use taxpayer money properly. Make sure we’re open and fair and transparent in everything we’re doing. And I would add an element to that. We’re going to move quickly. Because I don’t think we’re moving quickly enough now. And that’s kind of scary. But we’re going to move quickly within the bounds of doing the right thing by the processes, by the taxpayers, the right level of information that we need to gather from the vendor community, from the public safety community, but we’ve got to move quickly.

You know you can kind of read your way around this, to see the other things we’re going to do. We have to be creative. We have to have a collaborative attitude about how we approach things. And you know, we’ve got to make sure that above everything else, every action we take is pointed toward the right mission, the right mandate. And we meet those needs every day.

So, what do we know to be true?

There are some decisions that have been made. Some have been made for us. We know it’s going to be LTE technology. We know we’re going to build a nationwide distributed core. We know we’re not going to flash cut LMR out of the hands of first responders. We’re going to actually find a way to integrate it as best we can, as seamlessly as we can, as quickly as we can. And we know we’re going to have to have a nationwide security standard and a nationwide app engine. And as you heard me mention earlier, that security standard is above and beyond anything on the commercial side we’ve ever seen.

There’s a level of information here that has to be protected. There’s a level of national security that has to be protected. And there’s a level of personal and private information that needs to be protected. So lots of work is going to go into what that needs to looks like. And then the apps engine. The apps engine in my time is the vehicle that is going to enable this seamless uptake of the capabilities across this country. I believe exactly what Sam said, I was just kidding him before.

I believe what Sam said, that 10 years from now we won’t recognize how we’re operating. You put this network on the street and innovation is going to take over. And what’s important about that is that when innovation happens in Oregon, it can quickly be transported to NYC. When something exists in NYC that’s a benefit to Minnesota, it can quickly be there. Because the apps engine and the core are going to be the vehicle that allows that to happen.

So, we know those things already.

We also know that we’re going to use deployables. And we’re going to use a lot of deployables. I wish we had them now. I wish we had the handsets in the volume that we need to be able to demonstrate what a change that’s going to make just to our ability to recover service.

Because I also have a belief that, look, we need to harden this network to a whole other standard. But I’m not sure you can ever harden a RAN to a standard that handles 250 mile-per-hour wind, or some of the other things that could occur out there. But what we do need to do is to have deployables within a short reach and a quick turn,  to get them out, get them up and get them working very, very quickly. If we had that today, FirstNet would already be making huge strides towards the mission of what we’re trying to accomplish.

And we also know that we’re going to leverage and use the BTOP experience to help us and to bring more people into the FirstNet family.  We also know (and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to put this on the slide until the board approved the resolution) but we also know we need to increase the outreach teams. Is Chief Johnson here? There you are.

Thank you first of all, for everything you’ve done—almost a one-man band—around what we’re trying to do with outreach and with your team of people that’s been behind you. We so much appreciate that. The good news is, we now have approval to get you some headcount beyond that and really start to do the outreach at a deeper level. So I’m looking forward to that happening.

And as I talked about, we already know that this network is going to be tailored to public safety and it’s going to be at a standard significantly above anything we’ve seen on the commercial side. And by the way, by way of background for me, you can read my bio and I’m sure some of you probably have. I’m not a carrier guy. I’m a FirstNet guy. My background on the carrier side is going to be a good benefit to what we do here. But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to make sure we deliver this network and deliver it in a way that meets that mandate that’s set in front of us all.

So, some things we still need to find out. We still need to find out about the network design. A lot of input is still coming in on that. You heard me say this morning I’m going to hopefully have a first cut of our business strategy by August and some of that will have to include initial assumptions about network design. We’re going to work really hard to try and pull all of that together and to get that socialized to people so that we’re not making decisions in a vacuum, that people have a chance to look at that, and see that and talk to us about that.

I’ll also tell you something. I’m extremely proud and I’ll tell you that one of the reasons that I’m here in the role that I’m in is that when I did talk with Sam and I did talk with other members of the Board, about how this organization was coming together, Craig Farrill and the people he’s collected around him, for this tech team, were some of the best and brightest in the world. And I knew that from being in the industry, not from working for Craig. I worked around Craig in other countries, but never worked directly with him. But I know of where Craig’s been and where some of the people that are with him have been. I knew this was a world--class team and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Craig, thank you for what your team has been doing as well.

Sam mentioned this and this is probably one of the biggest we’re going to have to make decisions about as we move forward, how do we develop the public-private partnership aspect of this? This is not going to be us in a room making decisions. This is a two-way conversation. This is your chance and anyone else’s chance that ever hears this to step forward and say, “I think I have an idea, and I think we’re willing to talk to you about it.” Because we need to hear all of that. Because it’s going to take a lot to go from where we are today to exceeding the kinds of standards that are out there for wireless carriers and to be able to do that in a time frame that makes sense for us all.

We also don’t know that cost yet of everything. We will know that as we get going and they’ll continue to move and I’m sure I’ll say the cost is one thing and the next day it’ll be something else. That’s just the evolution that we’re going to go through. We’re going to learn more, we going to drill down more, we’re going to have better ideas about partnerships as we go forward.

But ultimately it’s all going to come together into that one perspective.

So the bottom line, this network is dedicated to public safety and if we ever forget that we shouldn’t be here – shouldn’t be in the roles we’re in. We have some assets that absolutely are incredibly valuable and we need to make sure we leverage those assets to the greatest extent possible. The public- private partnership aspect of this is huge. We’re in the very, very beginning stages of that. There’s a lot that will unfold as we move forward.

I talked about the critical few things directionally for my organization, and I think I’ve covered most of that already. So, I think the important part is I finally get to build a leadership team that will build its own teams, and the next time I talk to you I hope to be able to tell you where we are versus a headcount plan that was approved this morning. And underlying all of that is that we’re going to continue to develop our business strategy. There’s no network decision made. There’s no business strategy decision made. There are certainly ideas and concepts. We’re certainly not ashamed or afraid to talk about those, but we’re going to continue to evolve that as we move forward.

So, I would just close with this. Haven’t I said it enough times? This network is dedicated to first responders. Everything we do, every day will be focused on that mission and that mission alone. And in order to make this project a success and to deliver that greatest telecom challenge in the world, it’s going to require an unprecedented level of support, an unprecedented  level of public and private partnership, and more than anything else, it’s going to require everyone that started out passing this law, everyone who can benefit from this law, and every vendor who can participate and help us as we go through this process, it’s going to require everyone to wear the same jersey and [work under] the same mandate.

I really appreciate the chance to have been here today. Thank you all very much. I look forward to a great couple of days with all of you.