Recent news that Santa Clara County firefighters had their internet service speeds slowed while they were battling the worst wildfire in California’s history is troubling. In times of emergency, every second counts and every second lost can cost lives. Dedicated — and prioritized — broadband access is critical for our nation’s firefighters, police, and first responders. That is precisely why FirstNet is such an important part of advancing public safety.
During my decades in law enforcement, I have seen a lot, but nothing involving as many moving pieces and requiring as much coordination as our response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Throughout the horrific events that unfolded, the Boston Police Department’s internet service had been slowed and compromised. During that day and over the course of the next several days, constant, real-time communication and careful collaboration between local, state and federal law enforcement were vital to the success of our mission.
That is exactly what makes FirstNet so important. FirstNet, a nationwide network platform with a dedicated core purpose-built for first responders is designed to provide law enforcement, firefighters, and other public safety professionals with a highly secure communications platform that enables them to protect the public more effectively and efficiently. It helps us do our jobs better, so we can help keep our communities – and ourselves – safer.
As opposed to relying on the more than 10,000 separate and often incompatible radio networks that emergency responders have historically used during times of emergency, FirstNet subscribers will have access to one, unified LTE network platform. That makes it easier for first responders from different jurisdictions or law enforcement officials from different agencies to coordinate with each other, improving response times and helping them keep the public safe. And FirstNet users throughout the country will not have to worry about network congestion or throttling.
The communications failures that affected the Santa Clara County firefighters should not be the norm for first responders. When responding to a fire or other large emergency, public safety agencies require the ability to track and prioritize their resources. Whether it’s things like data connections being slowed to 1/200 or less than normal speeds or body camera service interrupted or compromised, cutting off communications between agencies working in tandem can be catastrophic for law enforcement efforts in our communities across the nation.
More than just providing first responders with their own dedicated network platform, FirstNet provides eligible first responders with always-on priority and preemption with multiple priority levels. FirstNet gives first responders 24-hour access to connections across the nation, from dense urban areas where network congestion is high to remote, rural areas where network connectivity may be scarce. FirstNet is a giant leap forward in public safety communications. It provides emergency personnel with a dedicated, reliable, resilient, interoperable, and innovative communications platform with advanced security features and protocols. Given the uncertainty in the world today and the immense pressure on first responders, FirstNet is a practical, viable solution to strengthen and enhance public safety communications to help keep Americans safe.
Edward F. Davis III is the former police commissioner of the Boston Police Department and a paid consultant to AT&T.
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